"For it is life we want. We want the world, the whole beautiful world, alive — We lost Bill Wednesday. Poet, Essayist, Musician. Bill was a Minnesota treasure, a world traveler, and a Friend of Iceland. He planted more than one seed of Icelandic discovery in me. His writing inspired me, his presence on the radio and in person lifted my spirits. A week before my second trip to Iceland (March, 2004) Bill gave a reading at a local publishing house. There was a small auditorium in the building and it was packed. Bill spoke, read, and played piano in support of an Icelandic soprano. He spoke of his writing workshop, of his summer home in Hosfós on the northern coast of Iceland. He was glowing, in his element, and we in the audience were enthralled. Last March, my wife and I had the opportunity to dine with Bill, the crowd was much smaller then, but Bill's enthusiasm was undiminished- he loved the lamb stew that was served so much that he passed the bowl around the table, urging each of us to have a taste!
and we alive in it. That is the actual god we long for and seek, yet we have already found it, if we open our senses, our whole bodies, thus our souls. That is why I have written, and intend to continue, until someone among you takes up the happy work of keeping the chain letter of the soul moving along into whatever future will come."
~ Bill Holm
To those of us who have been bitten by the "Iceland bug", Bill's writing on that subject always provided a soothing balm for that persistent itch. Here he expresses his love for the Icelandic language most eloquently:
The Icelandic Language
In this language, no industrial revolution;
no pasteurized milk; no oxygen, no telephone;
only sheep, fish, horses, water falling.
The middle class can hardly speak it.
In this language, no flush toilet;
you stumble through dark and rain with a handful of rags.
The door groans;
the old smell comes up from under the earth to meet you.
But this language believes in ghosts;
chairs rock by themselves under the lamp;
horses neigh inside an empty gully,
nothing at the bottom but moonlight and black rocks.
The woman with marble hands
whispers this language to you in your sleep;
faces come to the window and sing rhymes;
old ladies wind long hair, hum, tat, fold jam inside pancakes.
In this language, you can't chit-chat holding a highball in your hand,
can't even be polite.
Once the sentence starts its course,
all your grief and failure come clear at last.
Old inflections move from case to case,
gender to gender, softening consonants, darkening vowels,
till they sound like the sea
moving icebergs back and forth in its mouth.
~ Bill Holm
Bill has been mentioned here several times, I have a feeling he'll show up again.
It's a job.
Barmaid in a beachfront cafe, another day in paradise:
"Better here than Chicago..." she said, but I wasn't hearing a lot of enthusiasm in her voice.
The newlyweds at the bar were talking to a scuba instructor. The barmaid had heard this conversation before.
"Better here than St. Thomas..." she sounded more certain this time.
The older couple at the bar listened politely to her riffs, her variations on the theme of island living.
"I just wish I could find someone who knew how to do Caucasian hair..."
Hot Fun In The Summertime II
Waverly, Minnesota, 1977
The best things in life may not be free, but they are pretty darn close.
There is nothing quite like the remembrance of a summer's day past
to bring a smile to those of us afflicted with the late winter blahs.
A flowered hat, some bright red lipstick, and baby, those blues are
gone, gone, gone.
All Blogged Out...
All work and no play makes Batty a dull poster.
I'll leave you with this "Tried Recipe" by Wanda Gág:
Put one part drowsiness in a cozy dish "Feather Bed Brand." Add
one pound of delicious dreams and a generous pinch of delightful
stretches, and a very little bit of time, and fill with the following
Filling:- One ounce of delicious plans, the most splendid kind of
ideas you can find, (Bright, Clever & Co. sell the best) 1 1/2 oz.
Thoughts (mixed). Mix thoroughly. Flavor with a few "It's time to
get ups," and serve hot.
Be back tomorrow...
... and the Winner Is...
Annie Rhiannon, for best
personal blog in the
Irish Blog Awards,
Forget all those Hollywood
types, let's hear it for Annie!
The Envelope, Please...
On this night of a thousand stars I'll be star-gazing, posting in more-or-less real time, giving reactions to the Academy Awards™ show. I don't really have any stake in who wins- this post will be about the show itself. With few exceptions the level of artistry of movie-making and film-acting is so high that anyone on this list deserves recognition. Writing and producing is quite another matter. But I do find that the way in which those people in the industry react and interact on the awards stage to be most intriguing. With a talented, charismatic host (Hugh Jackman) and a variety of movies likely to win awards, it should offer some lively viewing. DON'T FORGET TO RELOAD!
Here we go! Kate Winslet in a gorgeous black wrap around dress, very classy!
Amy Adams in a blood-red strapless gown- Whew!
Sarah and Matthew seem nervous. Haraji P.Henson is nervous as well..
Frank Langella with his shy daughter, nice family...Brad and Angelia ... oops they're already gone... Valentino! Not that one, the fashion designer...
Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire" is classy enough to come with his cast.
Mickey Rourke stylin', too bad about his dog... Robert Downey Jr. lookin' good as is his wife/producer... Viola Davis looks as if she has taken a few 'ludes...
Miley Cyrus in a sno-cone? Anne Hathaway in Armani...yummmm
FIRST COMMENT:Comica wrote... Kate Winslet is always beautiful, but I love that dress as well! I'm keeping watch on your blog while I cast an eye on the Awards!
Meryl Streep with her equally glamorous daughter...
Penelope Cruz in vintage fashion is GLOWING! Richard Jenkins very humble... Jack Black funny in a suit. Marisa Tomei in Versace, knock out pleats!
Design featurette: HEY! If you have to explain it, it doesn't work!
HUGH JACKMAN hits the stage, with the orchestra behind, very classy! He's a great singer! And Dancer! And tasteless lyrics! Oh well two out of three...WAIT!
Anne Hathaway as Nixon! What a hoot! Overall Very Good.
Film clips! They're back! From last year's show!
First Award is: BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS- they're introducing each one (how nice!):
Viola Davis, "Doubt"
Penelope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" -my favorite!
Amy Adams, "Doubt"
Taraji P. Henson, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Marisa Tomei, "The Wrestler"
Penelope Cruz wins and is on fire she's so hot!
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY Tina Fey and Steve Martin work well together...
Dustin Lance Black, "Milk" - Wins! (Didn't see it) good acceptance speech...
Courtney Hunt, "Frozen River"
Mike Leigh, "Happy-Go-Lucky"
Martin McDonagh, "In Bruges"
Andrew Stanton, and Jim Reardon; original story by Stanton and Pete Docter"WALL-E"
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Simon Beaufoy, "Slumdog Millionaire" -first of many wins?
David Hare, "The Reader"
Peter Morgan, "Frost/Nixon"
John Patrick Shanley, "Doubt"
Eric Roth, Robin Swicord, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" -I did read the original F. Scott Fitzgerald story...
Animation- CGI gives me headaches. That includes PIXAR... First Steve Jobs reference. The short films looked good, though...
Art Direction awards... I'll pass on that, time for a bathroom break...
Costume Design... The Duchess- I actually saw that one, sans audio on an airplane. I kept thinking, this movie is going to win a costume design award!
Makeup: It had to go to Button... even if it had a lot of CGI
Romance featurette- more clips! At least they are of beautiful people kissing...
Cinematography: These people have my highest respect. Maybe not Ben Stiller's...
another win for Slumdog ...could be a trend?
Sci-tech awards. More CGI. Comedy featurette: dumb but FUNNY!
Live action short: didn't see any... a Dylan tune on one of the clips...
This middle part of the show always seems to slow waaaaay down...
Hugh Jackman and Beyonce in a new new record for a most fractured dance medley, some tunes had only two bars! Is the musical really back?
More clips... and another FIVE presenters, doesn't Cuba Gooding Jr. know things have changed?
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Doubt" I doubt.
Josh Brolin, "Milk"
Robert Downey Jr., "Tropic Thunder"
Michael Shannon, "Revolutionary Road"
Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight" a lock? YES!
I can't imagine how tough it is for his family. Here come the waterworks... (mine)
Documentary... these are the movies that will be watched in one hundred years...
Action Films... these are the movies that won't...
Visual Effects- more CGI...
Sound Effects- The Dark Knight triumphs again!
Sound Mixing- half the movie. Slumdog Third win!
Editing- Slumdog again!
Eddie Murphy gives the Hersholt award to Jerry Lewis. Yeah, tell me you aren't crying...
Original Score: Well, the orchestra was polished. Slumdog's fifth!
Song: All singing! All dancing! No Springsteen! Slumdog! Slumdog!
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
"The Baader-Meinhof Complex" (Germany)
"The Class" (France)
"Departures" (Japan) wins...
"Waltz with Bashir" (Israel)
These all looked good, I don't recall any of them playing here...
The dearly departed... and they didn't forget Vampira!
Can they give 4 awards in 12 minutes so I can get to bed? No.
Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire" I won't bet against this... 7 and counting...
Stephen Daldry, "The Reader"
David Fincher, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Ron Howard, "Frost/Nixon"
Gus Van Sant, "Milk" ~ Van Sant's failures are more interesting than most others successes...
Anne Hathaway, "Rachel Getting Married" crying in the introduction...
Kate Winslet, "The Reader" almost crying...
Melissa Leo, "Frozen River" happy to be here...
Meryl Streep, "Doubt" happy as well...
Angelina Jolie, "Changeling" proud...
And the Oscar goes to KATE WINSLET! Breathless. Hyperventilating. Happy.
BEST ACTOR- gotta be Rourke.
Frank Langella, "Frost/Nixon"~ Langella used to work in our local theater, he was quite the dashing leading man in his youth.
Sean Penn, "Milk"~ Penn is fantastic in almost everything.
Richard Jenkins, "The Visitor"~ great in Burn after Reading as well...
Brad Pitt, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"~ He was better in Burntoo..
Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler" we all need a second chance...
SEAN PENN! A great speech...
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"Slumdog Millionaire" ~ Wins!
Eight awards... eight minutes to 11, I've had enough, I'm going to bed.
Live Blogging Event!
FITK is going to "live-blog" the Oscars!
Tune in Sunday, starting at 7 pm CST
(0100 Monday GMT) for all of Professor
Batty's reactions to this gala event.
The joy! The tears! The ridiculous
excess of it all! I'll be updating every
commercial break - I'll put your comments
in as well! So, to all five of my Sunday
"BE THERE OR BE SQUARE!"
I had no defense for it,
The heat was too intense for it,
What good would common sense
for it do?
'cause its witchcraft,
And although, I know,
it's strictly taboo...
It's such an ancient pitch
But one I wouldn't switch
cause there's no nicer witch
... yet another Valentine's Day destination...
The Black Forest Inn in South Minneapolis is a pleasant bistro serving up German Fare. Since my paternal ancestry is mostly Deutsch, I should feel right at home here, and I do. The food is somewhat bland but comfortable: Spaetzle, Sauerbrauten, Sauerkraut, potatoes, pork and sausage of various types. The beer selection is very good, worth the trip if you like traditional German brews (yes, you can get a flight.)
The decor is faux Bavarian hunting lodge; thankfully it hasn't changed one bit in nearly 50 years. More comfort. A few pretzel-trimmed streamers were the extent of the holiday decorations. The room's lack of pretense and bombast was yet another source of comfort. In our brief (8 week) courtship, the Weaver and I once came to this place, sat in the same corner, and enjoyed the same ambiance- nearly 33 years ago- the memory of which furnished another source of comfort. Restaurants, Minneapolis restaurants in particular, are prone to turnover, remodeling or re-invention every few years. It seems as if all I write about lately are things going out or already gone. Perhaps that why I like reading Halldór Laxness. He's not writing any thing new, and his old work has lasted. An escapist indulgence on my part? Perhaps.
Another form of escapism was this dessert:
In 1970, the noted Photographer Richard Avedon held a retrospective at the nearby Minneapolis Institute of Arts. It was a big show, he spent many days putting it together; he became a regular at the Black Forest. In appreciation, he donated a large print depicting the Daughters of the American Revolution in full regalia to the Inn. It was covered in Plexiglas and situated opposite the bar. Several years later an irate patron shot the picture, twice, never giving a coherent explanation for this bizarre action.
The bullet-holes remain.
Big House and Bohus
... more from the Valentine's Day excursion...
Pictured above is The American Swedish Institute- a historic house, museum, and cultural center located near downtown Minneapolis. Swedish immigrant newspaperman Swan J. Turnblad founded the Institute in 1929, this was his residence before then. We were there to catch an exhibit of Bohus knitting and design. The Bohus movement was active in Sweden from the late thirties until the late sixties. Its aim was to empower women, its method was aesthetic knitting:
I'm not a knitter, but I was duly impressed. Personal stories, pictures of famous women in Bohus knits (love the "Mists"), and a wide variety of vintage outfits made with a soft wool/angora mix and colored with natural dyes made for a most pleasant exhibit. In one room a video history of the movement was playing. It had interviews with some of the surviving women, along with a disturbing story.
During World War II, the main Bohus building sheltered Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, much to the displeasure of Swedish Nazis. Scenes of demonstrations, clippings of anti-Jewish propaganda, and a flag with a yellow swastika on a blue field brought home the fact that Swedish neutrality was not monolithic. The Swedish Nazi party remains a force in Swedish politics to this day. It seems that my maternal ancestry had a darker side.
The rest of the institute consists of the individual rooms of the mansion, with its the original decorations and furnishings, and a colossal stained glass window depicting the looting of Gotland by a Swedish King. In the third floor ballroom, displays of Swedish heritage in the Minneapolis area included a tribute to "Snoose Boulevard" and Dania Hall, a gathering point for many Swedish immigrants. Much of the action in Ole Rolvaag's novel Længselens Baat - The Boat of Longing (1921) took place in that area. My old neighborhood was also one of the "Swedetowns." When I was a child I can recall visiting the local shoe repairman who spoke only limited English- "Ya I fix."- was his usual end to any conversation.
The Electric Fetus
I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news,
But she just smiled and turned away.
I went down to the sacred store
Where I'd heard the music years before,
But the man there said the music wouldn't play.
An old Hippie in-joke (inspired by an underground comic book's cover) was the origin of the name of this now venerable Minnesota institution. "The Fetus", as it is commonly referred to, is a head-shop/music store. It lives on in this digital age, if not exactly thriving, still offering a wide variety of music, trendy merchandise and "smoking" accessories. I had a chance to stop in Saturday (on a Valentine's day outing) and the place was busy, if not exactly packed. The stench of mixed incense hadn't changed one bit in 40 years, neither has the general look of the place since they moved into and converted it from an old hardware store about 35 years ago. One thing that hadn't changed either was the depressing music that is played at thought-numbing volumes. This has always been a weird constant. The store has a great selection of music, with an unparalleled depth in country, rap, blues, jazz, international, and local. Of course there are the usual pop and rock titles. The clerks perversely insist on playing their favorites- complete albums- and DJs they are not. Maybe they're getting forced (i.e.; payola) to play that dreck.
What had changed was the growth of vinyl, both vintage and new. It had been phased out almost completely in the 90's, and is now back with a vengeance. With big-box retailers stripping down their music sections to a least common denominator format, hopefully this place will be able to hang on for a while in its role as a cultural anachronism.
The Happy Warriors
"You are strange men in Iceland, who will not submit to a king, but rely only upon yourselves, which is without parallel in the world."
Historical fiction, if it is to succeed in transporting the reader to a distant era, must impart a sense of verisimilitude in the events it depicts. Even more difficult is the re-creation of the literary style of a past era. The crowning achievement is, of course, the creation of a truly great novel. The Happy Warriors, by the great Icelandic novelist Halldór Laxness, succeeds on all three counts.
First published in Icelandic as Gerpla in 1952, The Happy Warriors is written in a strict Saga style. It is the story of two "oath-brothers", Thorgeir Havarsson and Thormod Coalbrowsskald, and their quest to re-create the glory of the warriors of old. In the changing world of 11th century Europe they are both out of date and in over their heads, for the majesty and power of the old pagan ways has been supplanted by the strange cult of Josa mac Dé: Christianity. After a few Icelandic misadventures they split up, Thormod the poet becomes distracted by woman's wiles and domesticity while Thorgeir, the would-be heroic champion, ends up in England and France, in the service of Olaf the Stout (later to become King/Saint Olaf.) Disenchanted with the European ways of warfare, Thorgeir returns to Iceland and meets an ignoble end. After much brooding, Thormod leaves his wife and children to undertake a quest of vengeance for the death of Thorgeir. Traveling to the far northern reaches of Greenland, living with the Inuits and enduring much suffering and hardship, he fails in his mission. Crippled and bitter, Thormod makes it back to Iceland and then, finally, to Norway. He meets Olaf on the eve of the Battle of Stiklestad. Thormod finally comes to the realization that his dreams of heroism and glory have led to only death and destruction.
This is a book full of strange and terrible things, sprinkled with archaic words and obscure references. A familiarity with the Sagas and that era (c.1000-1030) would be a definite aid in comprehension (as would some annotation!) While I feel certain that the stylized language in the book must be absolutely brilliant in the original Icelandic, Laxness' literary mastery still manages to come through in the English translation. The language is powerful and direct, its archaic aspect only adding to the story. In a departure from the Sagas, Laxness introduces some social criticism, starting subtly and building steadily. By the final scene, which culminates in a moving climax, Laxness' message is felt all the stronger for its prior restraint.
After comparing this to the other Laxness novels available in English, I am glad that I read this book last; I wouldn't have appreciated it nearly as much without reading the others. Anyone interested in the spread of Christianity in Northern Europe during this time will find a wealth of material here, played out in front of a vivid backdrop of actual historical events.
Special thanks to Rose for her help in steering me to a library copy of this rare book.
Her review is here.
For a different view, go here.
More on Halldor Laxness at Laxness in Translation
Diane was free, free at last. Free from her bullying father, her despairing mother. Her first apartment, with her things in it, her art on the wall, and a little TV- she would watch only those shows that she liked. If a friend wanted to stay the night, there was a sleeping bag and the hide-a-bed had pillows for two. No going back now, she was finally on her own. Every payday she would get a bottle for the weekend, and if she wanted to down it all, there would be no one to stop her. If she wanted to sit around in her bathrobe and sunglasses and fuzzy slippers that was OK too.
"Com'on and pour me a drink, honey, the night is young and we're going nowhere."
American Life - #1
From a bag of miscellaneous slides bought in a thrift store.
No names, processing date 1972.
Write your own story.
My My Hey Hey
A bathroom stall is a forum for those voices who are unheard in normal literary channels. While usually reserved for topics concerning bodily functions, sometimes musical criticism appears (Disco sucks!), although usually not with such messianic fervor as the above example.
Neil Young. Not only are some people still passionate about him and his music, but he continues to create new projects which are received with critical and commercial success. Not quite on the level of Bob Dylan (his youthful idol), but he still can "bring it" in concert with searing guitar solos and inspiring singing. I've always had a grudging (grunge-ing?) respect for Neil; I've seen him in concert (1971 and 1999) and some of his songs are favorites of mine. Not all of them; he has been know to mangle a metaphor or two and has been downright scary (Down By The River) at times. His "one-note" solos are either inspired minimalism or trite self-indulgence, depending on my mood.
Keep on rockin' in the free world, Neil, it's better to burn out than fade away.
One of the (very)few advantages in growing older is in the purchasing of recorded music. The hot trends may come and go but, after 30 or 40 iterations of the pop music cycle, I can pretty much pick and choose music from all eras with a fair idea of its compatibility to my personal tastes. Another advantage is that I've got the equipment to reproduce the various formats, and to transfer them to digital if the need arises.
I never could warm up to iTunes™ and its MP3 brethren, however. It always seemed to me to be something of a scam, insofar as the time and effort to load one and develop play-lists was not my way of dealing with a music library. I like my music to be there- on a shelf- with liners notes, artwork and sequencing complete. Random playback, while a novelty at first, distracts me and takes away from the "movement" approach to listening. A 20 to 60 minute "concert" of thematically related material fits my attention span. To "program" my own demands more of my time than I'd care to spend on such ephemera.
And of course, there is the cost. I still buy new CD's on occasion, but there are many used options which are far cheaper than buying retail. Last week I found seven albums at the thrift store, new or nearly new, 6 CD's and a vinyl two-LP set. All of it was stuff I knew I'd enjoy (and I did) Count Basie, Leonard Cohen, Billy Bragg & Wilco, Ralph Stanley (his latest release!), Bing Crosby, Lovin' Spoonful and Joni Mitchell. Where this stuff comes from I don't know. With the exception the Joni, all of the titles were less than three years old or are definitive collections. 115 tracks for $11.20. They would be (if they had them all) $94 on iTunes™. This was a good deal, even by thrift store standards, but not unheard of.
Nothing lasts forever. I can't take them with me. I do thin out my music collection from time to time, some of the CD's are still worth a little money at the used store. MP3's are worthless.
Life is good.
"Well, she was just seventeen
You know what I mean
And the way she looked was way beyond compare
So how could I dance with another
When I saw her standing there...
~Lennon, McCartney, I Saw Her Standing There
A milestone in almost everyone's life, the absolute end of childhood.
Your physical form has stabilized, you aren't yet 18 (sort of a quasi-adulthood age in the US) and you should be full of youthful vigor.
A big fish in a small pond, soon to migrate to the uncaring ocean which is The World.
Bitter or sweet, an age unlike any other, and never to be repeated.
For some the best year of their lives.
And those of us with ravaged faces
Lacking in the social graces
Desperately remained at home
Inventing lovers on the phone
Who called to say "come dance with me"
And murmured vague obscenities
It isn't all it seems at seventeen...
~Janis Ian, At Seventeen
And some never recover.
Or is it all in the eye of the beholder?
I may have had enough for one lifetime.
Super Bowl Ads!
Everybody loves those wild 'n wacky Super Bowl ads, right? With this in mind yours truly, the intrepid Professor Batty, sat down Sunday night to review the best and the brightest of them. I started a bit late but knew that every year this spectacular always features a consumer's cornucopia of commercials. I was sure this year would be no exception.
First up was a Doritos™ ad, with a young man on a busy downtown street who is granted magical powers by eating a Doritos™ corn chip. He uses this power to strip an unsuspecting woman down to her underwear.
The next ad was for GoDaddy.com, a domain name provider. Three teen-aged boys watch interactive porn on a computer which, now that it is connected to GoDaddy, enables them to have control over first a willing woman, then an unwilling one, forcing them to shower naked on their website.
I turned it off.
The Super Bowl people don't care if I did, I'm past the age of their prime market demographics. I have bought Doritos in the past, however, I don't think I'll be doing that anymore. If you have to sexually humiliate women to sell your product, you might want to rethink your business model. GoDaddy is just trying to legitimatize porn (which probably is their business model), assault-based porn in particular. They are crimminals.
One for the Road
I had been browsing in a Christiansted bookstore, half-heartedly looking for a book to read on a seven hour flight home. The usual suspects were there: light fiction, mysteries; Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys was highly recommended by the clerk. I looked through about a thirty titles and nothing seized me with a passion. Most modern writing seems a bit flat; as if writing schools and marketing have conspired to produce a competent but bloodless product. I finally figured out what my real problem was.
My vacation book on the way down was a collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald's short fiction. These stories, if sometimes a bit dated, were unfair competition for the "light reads." There were enough stories remaining that I hadn't read yet so I left the shop empty-handed...
Outside the window the blue sirocco trembled over the wheat, and girls
with yellow hair walked sensuously along roads that bounded the fields,
calling innocent, exciting things to the young men who were working in
the lines between the grain. Legs were shaped under starchless gingham,
and rims of the necks of dresses were warm and damp. For five hours now
hot fertile life had burned in the afternoon. It would be night in three hours,
and all along the land there would be these blonde Northern girls and the
tall young men from the farms lying out beside the wheat, under the moon.
~F. Scott Fitzgerald, Absolution, 1924