Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Recent flooding in the Red River valley brings to mind the last major flood in my town. It was 1997, the same year of the last flooding in Fargo and Moorhead.
Houses had been built on the floodplain here in the late 1890's, before a dam was installed downstream on the Mississippi. After the dam was built, whenever there would be a rapid breakup of the ice on the river it would float down to the dam and cause a jam- if the snowfall had been high that winter, the water would back up in a hurry. After the last flood, the few remaining houses on the floodplain were removed, and the land was elevated about 4 feet. New houses were built (without basements) and the area is stable (at least until it floods 5 feet!)
In the Red River Valley, Grand Forks was devastated in '97 as well. After the flood they also removed all housing from the flood plain and rebuilt dikes to a much higher level. In Fargo and Moorhead they did not. The Red River flows North, to Lake Winnepeg and ultimately emptying into Hudson's bay. Until the spring thaw in Canada, the river is prone to backing up.
About every ten years there is a significant flood in the F-M area. Many of the homes which are threatened or have succumbed to the flood waters are newer, expensive homes, in exclusive neighborhoods. Someone approved their construction and financing.
I don't understand this.
Friday, March 27, 2009
Night in the City
It is never really dark at night in the city. Even my small town is more or less illuminated 24/7 by street lights and the diffuse glow from nearby businesses and parking lots. Walking through the house after everyone has gone to bed, I seldom need to turn on a light. Some parts of the house take on an enchanted aspect. I sometimes just sit in the dark gazing at a window and, as my eyes adapt, details hitherto unnoticed become visible while indistinct shadows form suggestive shapes. The refrigerator whirs while the low moan from a freight train is heard in the distance. When I get a little chilled I head back to bed with a sense that everything will be all right.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Junior College, that is. In the late 60's a side effect of the baby boom was the proliferation of numerous 2-year "Junior Colleges." There were so many kids coming of age that the established universities had no place to put them all. In the middle of corn fields or nestled in the periphery of downtown areas, all sorts of community colleges sprang up almost overnight, or so it seemed. I had already attended the U for a year and while my grades were decent, I was miserable. Metropolitan Junior College, on the western side of downtown Minneapolis right across the street from Loring Park, was housed in a funky amalgam of buildings purchased from a small bible college/radio station (Jim and Tammy Faye Baker were notable alums.) The classes were small, taught by mostly by part-timers and other academic misfits, and were, on the most part, pretty good. The politics of tenure was absent (or at least minimized), the jock culture was small (I was on a badminton squad!) and most of the instructors actually had some practical experience in their fields.
All of the college buildings were connected by underground tunnels. The older buildings possessed sort of a horror-flick vibe (Roman Polanski's The Tenant comes to mind) with long dark corridors, crumbling plaster, dark wood trim and hissing radiators. I had gotten a part time job attending to the photo lab; it was located on the second floor of what had previously been an old apartment building. The darkrooms were in a bedroom and in its adjacent bath- which still retained toilet, tub and sink. The other apartments in that building were used as offices and small classrooms, some complete with functional fireplaces! There was an elderly caretaker who had an office in the basement full of tools and supplies. I think he came with the building. There was even a small room with a piano- if a practice time hadn't been scheduled you could go in and play, no questions asked.
I'll stop the reminiscence now; I'm starting to realize what a good thing I had there. And it would never do to the have this ersatz prof start wallowing in blubbering sentimentality, would it?
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Don't Change Your Hair For Me
What will it be today?
A little trim?
Perhaps some feathering?
Did you know that bobs are back in style?
We could do wonders with highlighting...
No, I guess not.
Still, I can't help but think that
if we swept those tresses back a bit
we'd see a little more "personality."
Monday, March 23, 2009
Batty's Shining Moment.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
All work and no play makes Batty a dull poster.
Not looking forward to this week, my work schedule is daunting.
Nevertheless, spring is in the air (or in our underwear, as Annie would say), hope springs eternal.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Death and Taxes
My desk is a filthy mess. With income tax time coming and the completion of my last will and testament long overdue, I have decided to plunge in and rectify the situation.
First up, our retirement accounts. Dozens of monthly statements, not exactly cheerful reading material. At least they are color-coded so I can find them with out having to actually read them. Next up are various bank statements and receipts- whoo hoo! I found a certificate of deposit which is ready to be cashed- just in time to send in on taxes! Digging deeper, there are piles of photos- most of which were scanned then ended up on a post. They have a home, and it isn't on my desk- Poof! and they're gone, banished to the basement. I'll put the maps and atlases away, my dreaming is done for this year- check! Shred paid bills- Check! (Ooh that feels so good!) Camera gear... hmmm, The big camera goes into a bag, but where's my little one? Mortgage papers... thank god we're done with those! One little bill, I'll pay that now, and one big bill, I'll wait on that one. Shred, shred, shred, lordy, where does this stuff come from?
An hour later and here's the result:
Next year, same time?
Thursday, March 19, 2009
My sense of iconography has been in a bit of
a jumble as of late. It was much easier when
I was younger. Marilyn Monroe, bless her heart,
made it simple. That she paid a very steep price
for her "creation" is a topic worthy of discussion,
but not from me, at least not today. There's just
so much to choose from now. Bombarded in the
media with images of promised physical delights,
intended to sell products of course, but
nevertheless those images are still emotionally
evocative, even if only on a sub-conscious level.
I should be out of that loop anyway, for my
reproductive years are far (and permanently!)
Still, these deaf ears can still hear the siren's
seductive song, perhaps not as distinctly, but
the melody remains clear. A cruel trick of biology,
or is it that we, as a species, have learned to
prolong our vitality so long that it causes this
not completely unpleasant disassociation between
need and desire. I know that it is just a trick,
nevertheless it remains a good one.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Not Dead Yet
Winter, as is its wont,
tried to kill me again this year.
As is my wont, I persevered.
Persevered over the slings and
arrows of outrageous etc...
The image depicts the sum total
of all the remaining snow in
my domain as of Tuesday evening;
we had been shoveling and plowing
in -10° F. weather just last week.
With the Vernal Equinox
arriving on Saturday, I feel
confident in saying that,
"Once again, Batty triumphs over
capricious and malevolent nature."
Although the struggle does seem to get
just a bit harder with each succeeding year.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Wheels Keep Turning
Nothing like a ragtop Beetle, with four on the floor and wind blowing through your hair as you head out on the backroads from Mora, Minnesota. Who cares if this tin can of a car doesn't have a heater; it's our endless summer. With my girl waiting at our cabin hideaway, what is there to go wrong? What was it she was talking about earlier, something about a clinic?
Monday, March 16, 2009
Losing My Religion - North Side Story
In the early seventies, I lived in a run-down area of Minneapolis. It was on the fringe of downtown; in its heyday (the 1890's) it had been where industrial workers and teamsters would live with their families. There was money there then. Saint Joseph's, a large Romanesque-style church, had been built along with an adjoining school, convent house and rectory. It was a point of pride for its parishioners and social center for the neighborhood. Its magnificent twin steeples were landmarks, visible for miles. Bit by bit, the church began to fade. Urban development, changing demographics, and the forces of nature all played a part in its demise. A windstorm blew down the steeples, the children grew up moved out to the suburbs, and large areas of homes were demolished, the land converted to industrial use or just left empty where a freeway was scheduled to be constructed.
The church was to have been spared, but it was finally demolished while a legal appeal to save it was in the works, torn down to make any point of saving moot. I still have a bench made from one of its pews, the church was torn down so quickly that most of the rest of them were crushed and ended up in a landfill. The congregation moved to an outer suburb, a freeway exit ramp occupies its former location.
There are still a couple of occupied houses and a old brick apartment building in the area. All the rest are gone and, excepting the occasional memorial, effectively erased from the history of Minneapolis.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Diaries and drawings by Wanda Gág
Wanda Gág, the noted children's author and fine-art print maker, first published this marvelous book in 1940. The bulk of it consists of excerpts from her diaries and was written from her fifteenth to her twenty-fourth year (about 1908 to 1917.) It also features many charming examples of her early (and some later) work. It is a unique and fascinating document. Wanda was an observant writer who was unafraid to bare her soul in chronicling her quest for maturity in Art and Life.
Growing Pains contains a wealth of information. Her nuanced observations on life in Minnesota in the pre-WWI era are unsurpassed. Her sometimes naive but always sincere views on courtship and dating are by turns quaint, endearing, and practical. The saga of keeping the family together after her father died and her mother succumbed to despair is inspiring. Her struggle to balance her internal self-concept with her outward appearance is the classic coming of age dilemma, expressed with the special joy and sadness inherent in youth. Her outlook on gender and ability is proto-feminist. Her struggles in her art studies is a great example to young artists of any era.
The diary ends as the war is starting and Wanda is getting ready to go take advanced studies in New York where she ultimately started her career. The diary stands on its own. Her later life, while also quite interesting(!) is not essential to the appreciation of this triumph. The book was a success when it was introduced and was re-published in 1984. There have many books about her and her family (her father Anton and her sister Flavia were also artists of note) but most of these are aimed at children. None of them are as well-written nor are any as vital as Wanda's own scribbled diaries.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Batty's Saga, Part IV - Shifting Perspectives
New things do arise from time to time.
The blogosphere exploded in 2004, as did my isolation. Suddenly everyone was a publisher. People from all over the world suddenly appeared in my laptop. The Flippist Phoenix arose from its ashes and, via this blog, connections were made- India, Korea, New Zealand, the east and west coasts, and... Iceland.
An old friend who heard of my trip suggested an exhibition of photographs. I took it one step further by adding text to my photos, text from one of my blog-sources. E-mails were exchanged, plans were made, and the show happened. The pictures were overshadowed by the blog-posts of an Icelandic correspondent:
But that was as it should have been.
About this time, the dreams started. In them, I was in Iceland, trying to get somewhere or meet someone. So realistic as to be unnerving, but really not unexpected. My obsession grew.
I was discovering new artists with new ideas, almost on a daily basis, all coming from that tiny country. I saw Sigur Rós play in Minneapolis, the next day I began planning in earnest for a third visit to Iceland. I had missed the music scene again when I was there, I made sure I didn't this time. The curious reader can pick up that thread in the archives, October 2006.
Since that last trip, my perspective on Iceland has changed. New sources of information, more literature, much broader perspectives. But a definite shift had occurred. The fire was not burning as brightly, other problems now occupied my attention. Then; disaster. With the kreppa now in the world's spotlight, what was once my idle curiosity had changed into something altogether more serious. Iceland's explosion of culture- much of it was financed and supported by the very banks that are now ruined. I watched helplessly as some of my favorite places disappeared, one after another, places that weren't even a part of high finance- as if they were mice, crushed by the falling elephants:
Change is always a constant, but this time I can't just can't seem to adapt. It's harder to make plans, any target I aim for is moving too fast for me to follow. Blogs and bloggers come and go, it's a lot of work to keep one going. What is left for me in Iceland, of its culture and people, remains to be seen. Regardless of whatever does happen I'll always remember my "Golden Age"- my own personal Icelandic saga.
Better times will return.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Batty's Saga, Part III - Adrift
Entering the kaleidoscopic ocean,
Adrift in sensations, a voyage of discovery.
A solitary figure with his wheeled grip,
Trudging down Langahlíð, across Miklabraut,
The city is still waking.
A room with a view- just a sliver of sidewalk.
Opera for lunch, a stroll by the harbor,
A walk up Öskjuhlíð.
Back to sleep, just a nap.
Waking- night or day? Who can tell?
Night it is, and sleep comes again.
Tomorrow will come soon enough.
Day, breakfast, students, unhappy Ðora,
Snow, Snæfellsnes, every minute another vista.
Impossible, stones speaking,
Giving witness to their lives
Life-blood flowing in waterfalls.
The horses' hooves rumble,
They come to break reverie.
Looking for apples,
Looking for attention,
Farewells, and then
Back to the City.
Frightening in appearance.
Lovely in reality.
The theater- a dream, not a play.
And the words flow, incomprensible,
But the drama is clear.
And the days go on and on.
Reykjanesfólkvangur, even wilder vistas.
Íslandsklukkan in oil in Kjarvalsstaðir.
More art, in museums, in galleries
In windows, in attics.
All of it Terra Incognito.
Nauthólsvík at dusk.
Defenseless and captured by
Three weird sisters.
Talk, talk, talk, connections made.
Night ends too soon with
Dancing in the mist.
A warm swim below freezing night air.
Walking back to the guest-house,
A quarrel's discordant melody
Drifts across the empty street.
Its tune lingers in my dreams
One more day before landfall.
The landlady's daughter sings
A skip-rope song.
The Hardfiksur salesman at the door.
The children's tombola on the corner
And all the cats, with their own city-within-a-city.
Again. Once again.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Batty's Saga, Part II - Filling a Hole
I had been working part-time doing sound mixing for a bunch of guys who had an old-school R&B band, basically reworking the same material we had done twenty-five years earlier. My interests in modern music were almost at zero, as were any in serious literature. I was in a rut.
Returning home from Iceland with a Viking-besotted Scotsman in tow, my experiences of that week in March of 2000 were akin to the "seed" of grit that produces a pearl in an oyster. Suddenly there was all this stimuli happening to me: newspaper and magazine articles, music, films, literature; all of these seemed to have an Icelandic connection. I knew who Björk was; I'd hear her stuff on the radio when I was out in the car with our boys. I hadn't really listened to her, so I got one of her CD's, then another, and another. I had just about given up on Pop music, but she "opened my ears" to her many new directions. The local film society began showing all these great Icelandic movies. Bill Holm's Eccentric Islands was published. I picked up the musty old copy of Independent People which I had rescued from from my parents' basement where it had lain for FIFTY-FOUR years. I began to read: Sheep, mistrust, bitterness and a cow. And suddenly the veil which was my mundane existence lifted.
How can I even begin to explain it? Stuff happens to people all the time. What ends up in our head is either accidental (externally generated), or deliberately put there (internally generated.) I had been asleep for far too long. The idea of my return to Iceland, to gather more first-hand experience, was growing. The Weaver has always had a distaste for windy conditions, so when she put forth the idea of separate vacations my preparations began in earnest. This time there would be a difference. By 2004 the Internet had matured enough that it was now possible to not only to receive the usual commercial information, but also personal information via blogs. Places and events that were just PR copy before had now become alive- as seen through the eyes of people living in them. The quality of the writing in them was not their primary asset (although it was usually quite high) but it was their directness which captivated me. I was ready to return.
Monday, March 09, 2009
Batty's Saga, Part I - Einmánuður, 2000
In the year 1000, Iceland was converted to Christianity.
In the year 2000, I was converted to Iceland(ity).
Being in thrall to two mortgages, private college tuition, and car payments, the Weaver and I had limited traveling options. There was a wild card in this deck, however: Icelandair's offer of a "Mid-week Madness" package. Four days and three nights in Reykjavík, an upgrade to a high-class hotel, all for a reasonable price tag. Bill Holm's Coming Home Crazy had touched upon his Icelandic experiences. My expectations were few, I knew of its dramatic scenery but not much else. Life at home had settled into a routine of work and familial obligations. Not that that was bad, but they were definitely minor variations on a theme. Iceland would be nothing like that, I was sure.
Minnesota and Iceland share similar weather twice a year- early spring and late fall. Both are quite cool, with wind and rain possible at any time. The old Icelandic name for the last month of winter is Einmánuður, which was when we arrived, the week before Easter. The trip from the airport is usually an eye-opener in any new destination and the wild lava fields surrounding the road made the welcome to Iceland unforgettable, if a bit ominous. The Flybus terminal had not yet been completed so we were unceremoniously dropped off in the parking lot of Hotel Loftleidir, to be eventually shuttled to the Hotel Borg:
The Hotel Borg was an inviting place, even to such a rustic as myself. There was a sense of friendly spirits there- although I saw no ghosts- perhaps it was just the memories of thousands of happy honeymoons and vacations. It was too small for the big corporate conventions, but it had a long history of visits by celebrities. The breakfast room was actually a fine restaurant by night, and featured a buffet complete with cod-liver-oil (and its tiny serving spoons.) Our room was a delightful mix of antiques and modern design. A shower-head the size of bird-bath deluged me with its geothermally-heated water. Bliss. Our helpful desk clerk arranged for a tour of the countryside.
Most first-timers take a tour of the "Golden Circle." You can't go wrong with it, even with a somewhat confused bus driver. In his defense, some of the roads had just been opened (after the winter's snows), it made it seem more of an adventure ("I think I can make it over this bridge" which was only about 50 cm wider than the bus itself!) Everything there was different, there were surprises around every corner. And then there was the scent of all that fresh air, or was it the lack of a scent? Exhilarating, intoxicating, and after a day of this we were exhausted.
The next day was spent walking around town, seeing the oddly charming little houses almost in the center of town, and a few grander ones as well, places where the great leader of the U.S. and U.S.S.R. met to decide the planet's destiny.
Or was that to play a game of chess?
We scoured the town, ate at some unique restaurants with names such as Hornið and Jonathon Livingston Malvern, and saw museums of art and natural history, and also some that were not so traditional:
And, of course, the harbor had it charms, as does nearly every port. I leave the pictures of ships to another chapter. I had heard that there was a vital music scene in Reykjavík, but it being midweek in the off-season, I could only find a small combo doing AC-DC covers in Gaukur á Stöng.
There was evidence of change in the air as well. I didn't know it at the time, but the city was starting an explosion of demolition and building. There were forces working here that I was only dimly aware of. Some of the modern things were a bit sinister to the eyes of a naïf such as myself:
I knew, before I had even left, that I would return someday.
Friday, March 06, 2009
Thursday, March 05, 2009
... a little more coffee, please...
some cream too?
The late shift gives you
a chance to talk, yes?
You look nice in pink.
No, really, I mean it.
We were playing down
in town, at Shorty's.
It was OK, not a real big crowd.
Nice neon lights in that room.
No we don't make it up here very often,
once a year or so...
Pie? Sure why not.
I'm not really hungry,
I'm just not ready to go
to my motel room, I guess.
You get off at four?
No, I didn't mean anything.
Just thinking out loud.
Thanks for the talk.
I appreciate it.
Wednesday, March 04, 2009
The Wily Walleye
Kim Kessler and friend, 2007
Wherein the professor declares his love for a fish.
The Upper Midwest and Central Canada is the locus of the Walleyed Pike cult.
Sander Vitreus, its scientific name, gives no indication of its revered status on the northern plains. This is not an exciting fish to catch, when hooked it allows itself to be reeled in with a minimum of fighting, indeed, many a Walleye has been thought to have been a snag. Where it excels is in the kitchen.
Light, flaky, fresh-tasting with minimal bones when properly filleted, it is a perfect vehicle for any artistic chef who possesses a mastery of subtle seasoning. I had Walleye tonight, in a local restaurant, it was a perfect antidote to the late winter blahs. Tomorrow the weather here will be in the forties, and in May I'll be able to legally take the Minnesota state fish and savor its goodness without an intermediary.
Tuesday, March 03, 2009
Monday, March 02, 2009
Looking back as far as history allows, games and toys have been used small physical items to represent real tools, weapons and creatures. One might propose the argument that the use of such abstractions is what allowed humans to develop technology and civilization.
Spare time has always been a marketing opportunity. In the early seventies the first practical video games began to appear in traditional arcades. Tucked between the pinball machines, shooting and racing games, those early video game machines were a turning point in human consciousness. No longer limited to the mechanical laws of physics, gamers had to contend with programs run by electronic computers, faster than any human reflex, programmed to create a virtual "reality" , crude at first, but now extremely sophisticated and seductive. A lot of spare time has been turned to money since then, with computer games now challenging (and blurring the line between) movies, sports and television for the top form of recreational pastime.
So where will it lead? The idea of actually learning a discipline (music, art, writing) which requires a lengthy learning process, seems old-fashioned or even foreign to many young people. Perhaps it never was as widespread as it now seems through the sentimental rear-view mirror of memory. But no matter how complex "modeling programs" become, whether in games or sociology or (shudder) economics, there is always a need for human reasoning and interaction.
The messy stuff. The real stuff dreams are made of.