After weeks of the cold, snow, and sensory deprivation, my addled brain can't take any more.
Mountains of ice, as far as the eye can see
Shackelton never suffered with such frigid temperatures and inhospitable conditions as I have.
In order not to go insane, I need to pull back, and get a broader view of things:
Just my driveway.
8 weeks left of winter.
Came home from work tonight and found the street blocked, with several fire engines and emergency vehicles in front of my house. I drove around the back way, and to my personal relief determined that the fire was not Flippist World Headquarters, but was located two doors down. The little red house was always a problem property, run-down and it had more more than one shady occupant in its past. Still, a family had moved in a few years ago and fixed it up a little; they seemed to be doing fine. No word on them, there were no ambulances, they may not have been home.
This is the situation. The house is beyond repair. Our neighborhood will be changed. In the go-go years of the housing boom, houses were being built on the occasional empty lot. Now, many homes stand empty and those which are torn down don't get replaced. Many of the houses around here are from the 1920's. Many more are from the 1800's. There are a few newer ones, ones that were built after the tornado of 1939. The little red house was not distinguished architecture by any means, but its absence will leave a hole in our lives and an empty lot on our street.
About ten years ago I went to Las Vegas for a photo industry trade show. There were the usual exhibits, ballyhoo girls, and tons and tons of photo equipment. These Irish dancers were a look back to a past culture, as was most of the equipment then on display:
Everyone was trying to impress, but very soon nearly all of the equipment shown here would be obsolete. New digital technology was coming in, it was still crude at this show, but would quickly become dominant. The future would bring strange new forms to the photographic industry:
Tomorrow, if all of the rumors about the new Apple "Tablet" are true (and they are rumors, not hype, for Apple has been silent) we may be on the brink of another technological revolution, this one affecting publishing and media distribution. I can hardly wait.
But Vegas will always be Vegas. Some things will never change:
Well, if you're travelin' in the north country fair,
after last weeks thaw
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline,
i remembered the day in the cemetery
Remember me to one who lives there.
when we splashed in the puddles
She once was a true love of mine.
just like little kids
Well, if you go when the snowflakes storm,
and I thought of you again, today
When the rivers freeze and summer ends,
when everything had turned to ice again
Please see if she's wearing a coat so warm,
and of your woolen jacket
To keep her from the howlin' winds.
with the buttons that were always in the way
Please see for me if her hair hangs long,
you'd raise your collar
If it rolls and flows all down her breast.
so you wouldn't need a scarf
Please see for me if her hair hangs long,
you'd shake your head and laugh
That's the way I remember her best.
as the snow fell on your hair
I'm a-wonderin' if she remembers me at all.
when i left you were puzzled
Many times I've often prayed
but you weren't sad
In the darkness of my night,
i never saw you sad
In the brightness of my day.
i never saw you cry
So if you're travelin' in the north country fair,
forty years is a long time
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline,
but the memory is still remains
Remember me to one who lives there.
of that day i was almost gone
She once was a true love of mine.
that day you brought me back
~"Girl From the North Country" lyrics by Bob Dylan
My latest winter project is moving right along - a guitar amplifier using a design from the 1950's. This circuit is noted for its "singing" qualities, it isn't really very loud, and in fact I'll be making it with lower voltages- probably only an 8 watt output vs. the usual 12 watts.
In recent years there has been the development of a cottage industry servicing thousands of amp-makers. This particular model, with its unique tone, has been so popular that the original manufacturer has reissued it- with a $2700 price tag! Needless to say, mine will cost considerably less. What can't be figured is the time I'll spend assembling it. This time spent is not a debit, it is completely enjoyable- like a four dimensional puzzle, with the addition of potentially lethal voltages!
Apparat Organ Quartet, Iceland Airwaves, 2006
There is now a sidebar link to the videos I've posted, there are various short "films" I've shot. Mostly Iceland Airwaves stuff for now, but I'll be adding more from time to time. They are kind of crude, but they are unique and, with the absolute lack of any editing, REAL.
A Thriller. By Arnaldur Indriðason, Minotaur Books, New York, 2009
This latest* installment in the Inspector Erlendur series is another bleak visit to the world of Icelandic murder and intrigue. One problem in this continuing series is that there is always a chapter or two devoted to exposition, but once things get rolling the action picks up considerably. These stories always have a sub-context concerning Icelandic society and conflicts caused by change. This time the questions of immigration and prejudice are at the forefront of the narrative, with a nasty murder of a Icelandic-Thai child sending Erlendur off on a search for the murderer and, as is always the case, his own demons.
Fans of the series should enjoy this book thoroughly, newcomers might want to start with Jar City AKA Tainted Blood (Mýrin, in Icelandic.) There is just enough continuity in these stories to warrant reading them in order.
*The latest book in the US market. We are about 3 years behind the Icelandic publication, and a couple of years behind the UK, perhaps because Arnaldur's long-time translator, Bernard Scudder, died recently.
The Salem Witchcraft Trials
Scene from "The Crucible", Minneapolis Patrick Henry High School class play, 1969
The last of the notable witch trials took place in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. Twenty people were executed, with two more dying while imprisoned. As much as any of the noteworthy orations and declarations made by the founding fathers in the American revolution, this event shaped what American would become: a secular state. Witchcraft trials had gone on in Europe for years where their prime function was to insure the supremacy of the religious authorities.
The events in Salem were more local, more personal, with a strong element of repressed sexuality. Arthur Miller's play has become a classic, not only for its dramatic qualities, but because it addresses the issue of human sexuality as an manifestation of good or evil. It has become a perennial on the high school stage, possibly because it is one of the few dramas where teen-age girls can "act their age" concerning these issues.
In 1693 there was a new trial, the "spectral evidence" which had convicted those the previous year was thrown out, but the final dismissal of all the charges was not until 1957! It was, by then, of no solace to the families of the accused or convicted.
The trials showed clearly how hysteria and fear could pervert justice. The trials used torture to extract confessions. The accused were denied advice and legal representation. The accused found themselves imprisoned on the basis of guilt by association and guilt by accusation.
I'm glad that none of that happens in America today.
Mount TBR Redux
My post of the 8th was a day early, for the very next day I received a belated Xmas gift from Rose, the librarian/blog pal/berserker from Virginia. It was McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, #15 (2004), which featured Icelandic authors. In proper Icelandic first-name-only fashion, the back cover blurb states:
The latest in contemporary Icelandic fiction:
Sjón, Hallgrímur, Bragi, Gyrðir, and more."
Those of you familiar with Björk will recognize Sjón, his Fridrik and the Eejit, along with Hallgrímur's America are the two standout stories of this mixed bag. I've run across several of the other authors in various film, theater and music endeavors, most are very good as well. Half of the book consists of the work of various other (mostly American) writers. The book as a whole is the perfect companion for a cozy winter-nights read.
Thanks again Rose!
Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye
It had been a blue collar bar for years- serving workers from nearby factories and businesses. The factories were pretty much gone, condos and lofts had been rehabbed in many of them, with young professionals giving the area a greater resident population than it ever had. This bar had changed too, the old "ACE BAR" neon sign which once lit up the corner had been moved inside- the burned out "C" and "E" gave it a cool, minimalist vibe. The place was now called "The Dubliner." The interior hadn't really been remodeled, they just decorated it with Irish posters and banners.
There was a lively band playing Saturday night, lots of Van Morrison and Dylan (no U2, however.) There was a good selection of beer with a popcorn machine supplying the only food. Electronic darts and video games were the only other amusements. Not exactly a pub (no booths, either) but close enough.
But there was a good feeling in the place. The regulars were an attractive mix of people, conversations were animated, but not threatening. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, why was this experience so much better than most other bars of this ilk?
Then it dawned on me: Kennedy.
Pictures of JFK (and Bobby too) were everywhere. Most of the people in the bar hadn't been born when he was alive, but I got a sense of JFK blessing this gathering (which was hardly Irish, but was certainly American.) This vision of Camelot still remains a sub-conscious ideal for many people, and in an old, dingy bar in St. Paul it surfaced anew.
It is becoming increasingly evident that FITK has temporarily slipped out of time.
Please stand by.
Cutting wood, Morrison County, Minnesota, circa 1920
Using wood for fuel warms you three times- once when you burn it, once when you split it and once when you cut it. I've done enough cutting and splitting to appreciate that adage. The cold spell we've been under for the last month is finally starting to ease up a little. No wood burning for me, however. I've had enough of that kind of heat for a lifetime.
Twentieth Century Poets #1- Mike Doughty
Signal got lost to the satellite
Got lost in the
Ride up to the
Man sends the ray of the electric light
Sends the impulse
Through the air
Down to home
And you can stand
On the arms
Of the Williamsburg Bridge
Hey man, well this is Babylon
And you can fire out on a bus
To the outside world
Down to Louisiana
You can take her with you
I've seen the
Rains of the real world
Come forward on the plain
I've seen the Kansas of your sweet little myth
You've never seen it, no,
I'm half sick on the drinks you mixed
Brooklyn like a sea in the asphalt stalks
Push out dead air from a parking garage
Where you stand with the keys and your cool hat of silence
Where you grip her love like a driver's license
I've seen you
Fire up the gas in the engine valves
I've seen your hand turn saintly on the radio dial
I've seen the airwaves
Pull your eyes towards heaven
Outside Topeka in the phone lines
Her good teeth smile was winding down
Engine sputters ghosts out of gasoline fumes
They say You had it, but you sold it
You didn't want it, no
I'm half drunk on babble you transmit
True Dreams of Wichita
Mount TBR 2010
As promised, here is a brief rundown on my new books (with another look at my ever-expanding Halldór Laxness collection!), bottom row, left to right:
The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology, by Rossell Hope Robbins, Crown, 1959. Pretty tedious reading, but full of cool vintage woodcuts.
Stories from The New Yorker, 1950 - 1960, various, Simon and Schuster, 1960. All the big hitters of short fiction in the '50s. Really exceptional.
Buffalo for the Broken Heart, by Dan O'Brien. Random House, 2002. Received as part of a combo gift with 10 pounds of frozen bison. Heartache, buffalo and redemption on a South Dakota ranch.
Icelander, by Dustin Long. Grove/McSweeney's, 2006. Post modern mystery, not about Iceland at all.
Arctic Chill by Arnaldur Indriðason. Minotaur, 2009. I'll be writing a review when I've finished this.
Swedish Folktales & Legends. See last Tuesday's FITK.
The Chain Letter of the Soul, The Heart Can Be Filled Anywhere On Earth,
The Music of Failure All by Bill Holm. I've been reading Bill a lot lately, These three books span the last thirty years. I may be writing an overview of his essays sometime in the future. The title essay of Music is about as close to perfection as Bill ever got in his writing.
Björk by Nicola Dibben, Indiana University Press, 2009. A scholarly treatment of Björk, her career and her music. Somewhat pedantic, but its section analyzing her music gives a greater understanding of her unique approach to composition.
TOP ROW: 14 Halldór Laxness titles and counting...
When ever I partake of wine, I check the label (or packaging) for a story. My perpetual quest for knowledge (read as: easily amused) is often surprised by the amount of disconnect between the words and the product. Often, however, there is no story. No tale of "ripe plum notes, with hints of espresso and chocolate" or the story of the owner's great-grandfathers's founding of his winery in a picturesque part of Tuscany/Alsace/New Jersey. No "concept" story of "irreverent" "rule-breaking" "heresy" in the creation of a new style. Just the name of the manufacturer, the varietal, and the district, Dry, Sweet, or Semi-sweet.
I had one of these "wines without a past" last night. It was, fittingly, totally nondescript. Not bad, but forgettable. Truth in advertising.
Books, Books, Books...
Christmas brought me a whole new "Mount TBR" this year, I try to cover it in a little more depth (with a little more height?) later on. For now, I'd like to share with you a little from Swedish Folktales & Legends, edited by Blecher and Blecher (Pantheon, 1993.)
Drawing primarily on 19th and early 20th century sources, this is an amusing collection, not quite on a level with the Brothers Grimm, but considerably earthier, almost ribald at times. All the permutations of evil stepmothers are here, along with clever and courageous children, and oodles of monsters and trolls. Some are pithy observations on the facts of life:
The Fussy Fiancé
Once there was a man who left his fiancé after she happened to fart.
Later, when he passed by her house, he saw her outside searching
through a pile of garbage. He asked her what she was looking for.
"I'm looking for a pin," she answered.
"You'll never be able to find it, " he said.
"Well, I'm as likely to find a pin in a pile of garbage as you are
to find a wife who never farts."
He considered this, and took her back.
Holding My Breath...
Read an interview with Sólrún Sumarliðadóttir of the Icelandic band Amiina. A new album this year and possibly a US tour!
ALMOST finished the leftovers from the holiday season.
Tonight's entree consisted of a casserole made from:
Cous-cous with a spinach/cottage cheese curry sauce (last Sunday!)
Quinoa/chickpea sauce (last Wednesday)
Bison meat from Friday's roast
Shredded chipotle cheese
Pinot Grigio from Saturday.
Much better than it sounds in the above description.
The bison was a present from our eldest.
Interesting to cook with, very lean.
It was grass-fed, giving it a distinctive flavor.
We were left with a single serving-
My lunch tomorrow?