Postcards From Chennai
Allow me to wallow in the tepid bath of my remembered past for a moment.
Going into the seventh year of this enterprise, it is far too easy to look backwards- especially when there is a tidy list of past posts on the right side of the page. There have been many who have wandered in here for a time or two, looking for something, perhaps intrigued by comment or two from a batty professor on their own pages. Some of them have returned, day after day for months.
"RS" is a young Indian woman, now retired from blogging, who liked what she saw here, the feeling was mutual. She ended up writing a fair amount on this blog, and many of the posts she had written on her blog ended up reprinted here as well. I had found her blog by searching "recently updated blogs"- her first blog was named The Whore of Mensa (the name of a famous Woody Allen short story.) She wrote prose and poetry, sometimes mixing the two. She wrote of her life in India, her struggle as a single woman, her loves, and posted pictures of her existence; and even recipes of the food she prepared. Hers was the classic dilemma of a person who was full of love but lacking a partner with whom to share it. She wrote for the world to see and respond to, looking for people who could appreciate her for who she was.
And then, as is often the case, a man began appearing in her photos. Soon thereafter, the writing slowed as is also often the case, then a death in her immediate family caused it to disappear altogether- hidden in private blogs and Facebook. Her traces on the internet began to fade away. I had only known a few people from India before, and none very well. RS changed that, and me. Sadly, the last time we communicated was when a stalker (in India) had found her name here so I removed her posts for a while, putting them back up later with her initials only.
There a several billion stories out there, but not everyone has the ability (and even fewer the inclination) to write what they feel to an indifferent world of strangers. But there have been enough connections to keep me doing this, when one link breaks another is forged, so the chain goes on- its strength undiminished.
beautiful and subtle sounds
verses from ancient sagas
stanzas of siren songs
quiet your thoughts
and listen long
Ultimate "Black Friday" Merchandise
Update from Iceland
For some really strange reason I can't seem to be able to blog in Icelandic today, perhaps it has something to do with the fact of me writing my final thesis in Icelandic and sort of not really enjoying it at the moment. So when I wanted to write something for me, here, nothing came until I started to do it in English. I tricked my blog-block by changing languages. Maybe it is a trick that would work for the thesis as well, and then I'd just translate it later.
Today's daylight only kicked in around 10 a.m. and I am sort of paralyzed in the pitch black outside. Inside is warm and I am really focusing on warm and cozy things at the moment: candle-lights, blankets, good books, tea-pots, the lot! Unbearable otherwise, it is as simple as that. Even though I am doing all I can to make the wintertime cozy, as well as going to the sauna-bath almost every other day of the week, I have already started thinking about warmer places with more sunshine. It sort of happens without me noticing it. It might start as a dream in the night. I wake up from it and remember only something about me walking around in t-shirt and skirt, barelegged, and being warm, and everything really bright with the sunshine. I then think about this dream, and it becomes a day-dream as well. Then I automatically start reading a small column in the daily paper called "veður víða um heim" (weather around the world). I read up on the temperature in Alicante, and in Rome, and in Miami, or wherever it is warm that day. Then I compare it to here.
At the moment my condition is not too bad, but there is also the big Christmas-thingie coming up, and even better, our friend Rob coming over by the end of the year, which is a huge thing to look forward to. But right about the beginning of January I start counting days until I get enough daylight and enough warmth again. Usually I have to wait for April until I am sure the winter is over. THAT is more than 100 days. February is my least favorite month, January the second least favorite, even with my birthday in there and everything. I am not fit to be in this country during January, February, and March. I really have to find a way to survive here, sort of find the trick around those 100 days, instead of just waiting. Or, second best, start working out a way to spend all winters in warm climate. Leave Iceland for the 3 coldest months every year. I mean, the birds do it, right? Isn't there a job somewhere warm that I could do next year?
~ Heiða Eiríksdóttir, in her blog skemmtilegt að vera til ef maður vill ("fun to be if you want")
Used by permission
That 70's Show
Looking through the kitchen window the other day, I saw a strange cat by the garage. It was a gray tabby, gingerly treading about the withered plants which lined the driveway. Its movements were odd, very tentative, as if its paws were hurt. Not one to be antisocial, I went outside and called "Kitty, kitty, kitty" but received no acknowledgment. The cat's head turned, but it did not look at me. Its eyes were blue, not a common color in tabbies.
I was getting cold, I went back inside to get a jacket. When I got back the cat was gone. I walked around the side of the garage and saw it sitting in the dry leaves under a lawn chair. I walked closer and called again, but the cat sat still, not responding to either my voice or my presence. Walking even closer, I could see that the poor creature's eyes were clouded with cataracts. I turned around and left him there.
How did it come to pass that a blind, and possibly deaf, cat was traveling through the neighborhood? It had no collar- was it feral? If it was, how did it survive in the wild with such handicaps? I thought of bringing it in, but if it really was a feral that would be a foolhardy move. Was it an elderly house pet who had left the security of home and had been wandering for days, searching for a way back? Or was it a cat which had been abandoned? What would I do with a cat, a blind one at that? We've never had cats in the house; it would require a complete commitment and a big change in our lifestyle- that sounds really shallow, I know, but it is true. If I left it outside, it wouldn't be long for this world, not with freezing temps and a winter's worth of snow coming.
Later, after doing some chores, I returned to the back yard. The cat was gone.
I can't save the whole world. More shallowness.
I couldn't even save a cat.
Was this visit really a portent of my own demise? Old, cold, blind and alone, searching for a place to curl up and await death's release: the end of all suffering.
Illustration: "The Black Cat", by F. Gilbert Edge, 1902
Saturday was a "culture day" at Flippist World Headquarters, a day of passive participation with no preconceptions or expectations. With the Weaver in tow, I set off to the second annual Nordic Lights Film Festival, which offered movies from Scandinavia coupled with mini-concerts- one of which was the Finnish-American folk duo Kaivama. They played traditional and modern Finnish fiddle tunes, some of which even featured a harmonium! Not something I run across every day, but very nice, with an excellent violinist:
The film we watched was Country Wedding (Sveitabrúðkaup) a film directed and written by Valdís Óskarsdóttir, which was a major disappointment for me. It was an Altmanesque-style slice of life about the members of a wedding party trying to find a country church and ending up finding out more about each other. It was supposedly a comic film, but ended up just being nasty. A good deal of it was improv, and although the cast was composed of fine actors, they were not very inspired, and certainly could of used more scripting:
After wards, it was just a short walk across the street to the sublime cafe Levain:
Wonderful food in a French-style restaurant connected to a good bakery, with the odd touch of having a very good solo clarinetist discreetly playing in the kitchen.
What better way to end a culture day than to return home for a viewing of Samuel Fuller's pulp masterpiece The Naked Kiss,?
This wild little film from the mid-sixties had just about every thing a pop-culture fanatic could want: a tough-cookie ex-prostitute with a soft spot for kids, a hard-boiled cop, a brittle madam, and a millionaire playboy with a terrible secret. Almost every scene seemed to be lit by a massive hard light; the black and white cinematography was as subtle as a sledgehammer (as was the dialog.) Constance Towers, a talented actress (who is still active in movies and television) had a field day, beating up pimps, singing with crippled children (in a production number which defies description) and generally carrying the film when it threatens to veer into Ed Wood territory. If you are a fan of this kind of schlock, it is sort of in the early Russ Meyer bag, but neither as funny nor as well done- it was just strange.
Scorecard: 2 hits, 1 miss (Country Wedding), and one split-decision (Kiss), not as good as last year, strange to be sure, but ok, nonetheless!
The Secret History of the North
An article in The Guardian posits that a Amerindian woman was taken to Iceland in the 11th century. Based on DNA research, there are an estimated 80 living descendants in Iceland today. As recently as 1960, before the discovery of an Norse settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows, any pre-Columbian contact between Europeans and North Americans was discounted in academic circles. Current research gives evidence of many Viking-era settlements in Greenland, along with contemporary accounts given by Guðríðr Þorbjarnardóttir and chronicles from the sagas. Numerous Viking era artifacts have turned up in Inuit villages. The list of discoveries grows longer and longer as the years go by.
Why this trans-oceanic activity diminished is a fascinating subject- with epidemics, climate change, the Reformation, and economic/political warfare in Scandinavia all playing a part.
Slipping In and Out of Time
I think that one of the reasons time seems to be hurtling past me at an ever-increasing velocity is the fact that what used to be distinct demarcations in its fabric are being blurred- time isn't going any faster, but it seems as if it is.
Case in point: Christmas. I'm guilty of rushing the season myself (see yesterday's post.) Christmas carols have been played on the radio and in stores for a coupe of weeks now, some people have their decorations up, and even our Christmas cactus is a little confused. The twelve days of Christmas (which seemed far too long when I was a child) are now more like 48.
With global warming extending summer (a week ago people here in Minnesota were wearing shorts) the calendar doesn't mean what it used to. Most of the other holidays are becoming variations on Memorial day. Thanksgiving once was special- a secular holiday celebrating the family- then it became the prelude to Christmas shopping, now it is just another long weekend of consumption and football.
On sort of a related note, The Beatles catalog has been released on iTunes today, maybe that's important to some, but its impact won't be the same as a new Beatle album under the tree used to be. But John and Yoko did make one of the best Christmas songs of all time, one whose message won't ever be diluted by sentimentality or commercialism:
So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear ones
The old and the young
A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear
And so this is Christmas (War is over)
For weak and for strong (If you want it)
For rich and the poor ones (War is over)
The world is so wrong Now!
And so Happy Christmas (War is over)
For black and for white (If you want it)
For yellow and red ones (War is over)
Let's stop all the fight Now!
A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear
And so this is Christmas (War is over)
And what have we done (If you want it)
Another year over (War is over)
And a new one just begun Now!
And so Happy Christmas (War is over)
I hope you have fun (If you want it)
The near and the dear one (War is over)
The old and the young Now!
A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear
War is over if you want it
War is over now
Three For Under The Tree
Perhaps I'm jumping the gun on Christmas shopping, but here is a trio of recommendations for your holiday gift list:
#1: Amiina, Puzzle
More delicate melodies (zero-gravity is the term they use) and unusual instrumentation from their expanded line-up. Get it directly from the Amiina website. Their sublime first album, Kurr, is available through Amazon.
#2: Ólöf Arnalds, Innundir Skinni
Ólöf's second album has more instrumentation than her first (Við og Við) but both feature her wonderful voice and mature playing and songwriting abilities. She's even joined by Björk on one song! Amazon has both CDs and more.
#3: Pascal Pinon, Pascal Pinon
You really didn't think I'd leave them off the list, did you? You can pre-order their CD (or vinyl!) from Amazon, shipping December 7th. If listening to it doesn't bring a smile to your face, you might just have a lump of coal where your heart should be. Don't take my word for it: this is a great album and in the last couple of weeks it has been getting a lot of buzz from music sites all around the world:
The All Music Blog (UK)
Fast Forward (Germany)
Indie Shuffle (US)
Limewire Music Blog (UK)
Modern Mystery (US)
Eardrums Music (Norway)
I (heart) Icelandic Music (Belgium)
The Lakewood Times (US)
[Martha Looks Around] (Spain)
Life in Tokyo (Japan)
Caiyu Chen (China)
Musical Coma (Brazil)
Music Sailor (China)
And, of course, there is this review from ten months(!) ago:
Flippism Is The Key (Outer Space)
I suppose one could order this music as mp3's, but what would be the fun in opening that kind of present?
Heart Attack Snow and DJ Cousin Mary
California! Just the sound of the word conjures up visions of sun, fun and SURF! The Minnesota prairie received its first significant snow of the year on Saturday, that heart attack inducing kind which is wet and sticky and weighs about 40 pounds per shovelful. I gave the the driveway and sidewalks some cursory attention and then retreated into the cozy lair which is Flippist World Headquarters. A glass of Temprañillo along with some cheesy comestibles put me into a semi-comatose state. With my last ounce of strength I managed to "tune in" DJ Cousin Mary. Her streaming broadcast was coming from the eclectic independent radio station KFJC in the Los Altos Hills of California. I was just in time for the "Reverb Hour."
I was content, in a cheesy/winey/surfy/California-vibey way. Much more fun than shoveling snow!
Mary has been hanging around FITK for some time now, she recently returned from Iceland Airwaves and posted her memories of it (along with dozens of video clips!) on a blog. Check it out, along with her radio show (Saturdays 12 to 3PM Pacific time.) The last hour is devoted to surf music, both old and new.
When her show was over it was back to my shoveling:
Only 126 days until spring!
Actually, a "Flippist" reverse-restoration. I had a nice, clear picture of the silos at the end of my block which I wanted to give the look of an old-time print:
I reduced the contrast, duplicated the image on a new layer, used the "stamp" filter to give a thin black line to only the shadows of the image, put these lines on the original image via the "multiply" layer mode, then reduced the saturation and added a texture to the original image:
It is hard to see the detail at web resolution, so here is a close-up showing some of the texture and line quality:
Photo: Oscar Anderson, Central Minnesota, Circa 1920
Taken from a copy positive from one of my grand-uncle Oscar's glass negatives. The original glass plate had been scratched, and had numerous spots where the emulsion had pitted. I did dust and scratch reduction on some selected areas, then used the healing brush and/or the clone tool to remove more. I added density to the face and the hat, and increased overall contrast. I scanned this at home, on a cheap all-in one scanner-printer-copier, but a better scan probably wouldn't have helped the image much.
I really can't say who the woman is, I know almost nothing about this branch of the family tree. When I was younger, my mother was worried that I would end up like her Uncle Oscar- a lifelong bachelor, who also had an interest in photography when he was young.
Photo-booth picture from the early forties. The usual yellowing, stains and washed out highlights. Still not satisfied with the colorization, needs more blending, but at least there is some facial modeling. Mountainous background suggests an alpine or Bavarian locale, but I know for a fact that this was taken in Minneapolis.
It's a picture of my mother.
Found years ago in a small photo album at the Salvation Army. The album page simply had a scrawl "Near Pasadena." From the look of the child's Buster Brown outfit, I suspect that this was from early in the 20th century. I thought I'd give it the look of an early postcard- hand colored, nothing too exact, just a suggestion of nature:
No personal connection this time, just a cosmic one.
The original print was actually in pretty good condition. It wasn't the best picture- it had been taken with a cheap camera and had been printed a little on the contrasty side. Cleaned up some dust and black speckles then took out a couple of scratches- it started looking better. Reduced the deep shadow on her face and deepened the density and texture of her dress. Straightening the horizon helped, as did taking out the stains and finally giving the whole image a slight color.
It was then when I really looked at the picture.
A woman in a house-dress, sitting outdoors with a lap full of kittens, in her mid thirties, possibly of Germanic or Nordic descent. She is looking down; only a sense of her countenance is possible without a clear view of her eyes. But her hand is clear- it is hardly dainty, but still supple. I've worked on many images similar to this one, but this one was different.
There's a quarter of my DNA sitting there. She was my father's mother, who died young when my father was still a child. I look for traces of myself in her, but I am more my Mother's child than my father's. Her hand is the same as my father's, though, and her build has "blessed" many of her descendants. There are only a few pictures of her in existence and this is the only one of her in a full-body pose. I'll probably never get any closer to her than this snapshot; the only child of hers who is still alive, an elderly aunt, was an infant when her mother passed away and has no memory of her whatsoever. My father spoke kindly of his mother, but he seldom spoke of the trauma of losing her and the troubles which the family went through afterward.
Wooden Box, Steven Spiro, 1979
A recent thrift store purchase got me to thinking about the value of things, both as a consumer and as a producer. This elegant box, hand made by a noted woodworker, ended up with the mass produced Pottery Barn and Pier 6 kitsch, and was priced even lower than most of that dreck. What am I to make of that? Just a lucky find, I guess, but still I can't help but think that we, as a culture, are becoming enchanted by ephemeral "media" and mass produced simulations of craftsmanship. There is no connection to the creative process.
The internet itself has a tendency to repeat itself with the re-posting of images, video and writing, but there is original material available, and its even cheaper than my wooden box, although it probably won't last as long.
What's it going to be for me then? Consuming the cornucopia offered by the internet, or producing content, original content at that, in a blood-draining drip-drip-drip? The topic has been on my mind all summer. It would be easy to sit back, surf a few chosen sites, and then let it go. No posting, no spell-check, no comma patrol. No midnight pounding on the door: "Open up! It's the grammar police! We know you're in there; you and your nasty little semi-colons!"
My answer: "Publish Post", hit enter, and I'll do it again tomorrow night.
Airing Our Differences
"Gonna sauna, ya wanna?"
"All sweaty, we getty?"
"Be naked, and bake-ed!"
"No wayze, you crazy."
"Come honey, 's one-twenny."
"OK, I'm peelin', but no feelin'!"
The New Dinosaurs
In the realm of music there is a definite trend emerging; a movement toward a more "natural" presentation. The advent of cheap, high-quality video gear, practical software and nearly free distribution on the internet allows almost anyone to express themselves to a world-wide audience. At the same time YouTube is removing copyrighted work from major labels, it is being overrun by indie or unsigned acts- many of them as good as the signed "artists" and most of them far more authentic. It is hard to be true to yourself when you are supporting armies of lawyers, accountants and executives.
The French videographer Vincent Moon has been building an archive of what he calls "take away concerts." They are shot live, sometimes in one take, and often in the street or other public locations. This is the forerunner of the future of music performance: a wide-open format where singers and musicians will be able to communicate directly to their audience and where a virtual concert can take place anytime, anywhere, and always be available. No wonder the record companies are running scared- they are the new dinosaurs, on the verge of extinction (running in fear from four teen-age girls, perhaps?) How anyone will make any money in this new business model is a topic open for speculation; of course very few people made money working for record labels either. Perhaps the lack of the corrupting influence of money in music will ultimately end up being a good thing.
Or is this whole post just an excuse to run another picture of Pascal Pinon?
Image: Vincent Moon
Noise is the Rest
The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want
A Book About Noise
by Garret Keizer
This was a little more technical than my usual reading, a book about the wanted and unwanted effects of noise, along with a short history. Keizer, an associate editor at Harper's Magazine, gives anecdotal accounts of the way noise is perceived not merely as a nuisance, but also as an expression of power, and as a byproduct of the modern age. The book is well written, but as the author indicated numerous times, noise is in the ear of the beholder.
While reading I was struck how noise (or loud sounds) have played a part in my life. Doing sound reinforcement with rock, pop and and R&B groups for many years I grappled with issues of amplified sound, how it could enhance or destroy a musical experience. I ran into circumstances where I was told to turn it UP as well those times I was asked to turn it down. After a point (I'd say about 95dB) the music ceased to engage the brain and became an exercise in the stimulation of the adrenal gland. Little wonder that lately I have been taken with the music of Amiina and Pascal Pinon, with the latter group playing a show last year that might have been less than 70 dB!
Yesterday I embedded the video of Pascal Pinon playing in a bedroom- completely natural, with the electric instruments turned down to match the human voices and the acoustic guitars. This is the reverse of the usual procedure of turning the amps up, then miking the vocals, then miking the drums, then turning the amps up again, then adding monitor speakers- a vicious circle. I plead guilty to these crimes myself!
Of course a bar or a concert hall is a completely different environment than a girl's bedroom. But with every bit of audio "gain", there is also a "loss"; a loss of humanity.
I'll close with the same quote as yesterday's post, only in English this time:
It may well be that this was the only time in my whole life that I ever really heard singing, because this singing was so true that it made all other singing sound artificial and affected by comparison and turned other singers into frauds; and not just other singers, but myself and the rest of us as well...
End of the Line?
Since starting this mess in April of 2004, it seems that I'm always saying goodbye. Bloggers just come and go- and blogging "relationships" have always been more like a pleasant chat with a stranger than a long-term commitment with a dear friend. That said, and although I had premonitions of its coming, the news of the recent decision of Alda Sigmundsdóttir to end her excellent blog The Iceland Weather Report was received here with sadness.
It may not be the end of the line as far as my interest in Icelandic bloggers goes, but it is truly the end of an era. Hers was the most informative, authoritative, and unquestionably the best blog from Iceland written in English. The site, along with its forum, will remain up, but her almost daily reports on a vast panorama of Icelandic topics will cease. This will be a big hole in my blog-world, while there are many good niche-sites about Iceland, and good personal ones, none of them (and indeed no blogs I read anywhere) could convey a person's life in its geo-socio-political contexts as well as Alda could.
I can understand why she's quit- she is an active professional, with family and other personal obligations, as well having to deal with the overall downturn in the Icelandic economy (as well as the comments of crack-pots!) It also seems pretty evident why she has kept it going as long as she did- she really loves Iceland, its people and culture, and that she thought that the rest of the world could appreciate it as well. It has been a rough couple of years for Iceland. Alda has been there through the worst of it, sparing nothing, she must be exhausted.
I certainly did appreciate her efforts; it was the only blog I've supported with monetary contributions, and it was always the first Icelandic blog I recommended to people interested in traveling to Iceland. It was also the only blog where I dropped my Professor Batty moniker and used my real name when commenting.
So. What else can I say? There is nothing, nothing except "thank you."