A History of Iceland
by Knut Gjerset,
Macmillan, New York, 1924
I found this book at a local antique store, that's the dust jacket of my copy pictured above- not bad for an 88 year-old! I was intrigued by its subject of course, but was pleasantly surprised in reading this well-written and comprehensive reference. Knut Gjerset was a professor of History and Norwegian at Luther College in Decorah Iowa from 1902 until 1936. He was the Original curator of the Norwegian-American Historical Museum (Now the Vesterheim Museum) which I visited last year.
A big problem in trying to grasp the history of Iceland is the blur of names, places and events over the last 1140+ years. This book helped me understand how Iceland changed over that time, in particular the power struggles between the goðar(chieftains) and the saga-heroes of the early years. The Icelandic people were then challenged by the Church and the royalty of Norway and Denmark, made chattel to monopolistic traders and even besieged by pirates! Obviously, the book ends right after World War I, with a chapter devoted to Icelandic emigration.
I may have finally read enough Icelandic history for it to finally "stick" in my brain. I wouldn't want to take a test on what I've read, but in reading this book most of the events were familiar and the flow of Iceland's history, particularly from 1300 to 1700, made for compelling reading. This is a somewhat rare book, but a diligent researcher can find a copy in WorldCat.
I am a Dragon. So there.
Sharon gets her Dragon chow at the pet-food store, I think,
Used by permission
As I was passing through customs the agent asked where I would be staying. When I told him I would be staying in an apartment on Garðastræti, he smiled and said, "Say hello to the Russians!" I was starting to feel jet lag, and this comment only made me more disoriented. He handed back my passport and then I was in. The terminal was nice, modern and bigger than I had thought it would be. I had picked up some really good Grand Reserva Tempranillo, most impressive for duty-free. In the ground terminal I got my ticket and boarded the almost-full Flybus for the trip into town. It was still somewhat dark when we left the terminal but the sky was already starting to glow over Highway 41 as it snaked through the lava fields and past an enormous aluminum plant, while the whole time the lights of Rekjavík and the surrounding communities danced along the distant shoreline:
Somewhere in that tangle of lights was my quarry, Billy Clarkson, the errant son of a senator, a senator who could possibly be the next president. Billy had evidently traveled this road many times. Why did he come back- love or money? Or perhaps his little power trip games played better here.
It was the passenger in the seat next to mine, an American who had boarded the bus at the last minute. I had to think before answering. He looked to be a bit of an odd duck, possibly an academic. My stock "Scandinavian Studies" reply might only bring more questions, questions that I wouldn't be able to answer.
"I don't know exactly, I've heard the scenery is pretty fantastic, and the music scene is supposed to be good in Reykjavík." I was grasping for anything.
"Oh, you'll find it all here- on a smaller scale than in a larger country, perhaps, but the Nature and the Culture of Iceland offer the receptive traveler immense rewards." He had a strange gleam in his eyes, and it wasn't just reflections from the lights from the lights along the highway.
"What would you recommend?" Anything to turn the spotlight away from me.
"Check out the National Theatre. Do a walkabout around the city. Check out the nightlife on the week-ends- but it doesn't start until after midnight. But the number one best thing to do is go to the swimming pools, to the thermal pots. Listen— don't speak unless spoken to. You'll find the real people there. If you've got nothing to hide you'll learn a lot when sitting in a hot-pot with four or five Icelanders wearing only Speedos."
"Thanks, I'll remember that." My head was starting to spin, that mental image didn't help any, and I was starting to get hungry. "I'm Sean. What is your reason for being on this bus?"
"I am Harold Shallbetter, I'm a professor of Scandinavian studies at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. I'm here for a seminar on some newly discovered manuscripts. It's causing quite a stir in my field. There is some controversy about their provenance."
I was right not to bring up my 'studies'.
As the bus neared the city the sky was getting quite bright. Looking out the bus window I could see into the cars driving past several feet below me. Morning commuters: some with coffee, some with sleepy children, all nice looking people, ready for their daily life. Billy wouldn't be found here among 'regular' folk.
Billy had his own reality.
Maestro's Farewell II
Saint Paul, Minnesota, 1970
Hell of a drummer.
Doubled on Mandolin.
Acted a little.
Sang a little.
He shall be LEVON.
The Maestro's Farewell
Stanisław Skrowaczewski and The Minnesota Orchestra, April 20, 2012
More culture, this time on the highest level. Anton Bruckner's symphonies have a limited appeal, even among classical music lovers. Mesmerizing to some, boring to others, they remain enigmatic. No. 8, his final complete symphony, contains the sublime Adagio which is decidedly "trippy". Broad, shimmering sheets of chords alternate between strings, reeds, winds and brass (with even some harps thrown in!) Subtle, ever-shifting dynamics transport the receptive listener to realms of...
... of what? In the ear of the beholder, this piece of music has meant almost all things to listeners over the years. Bruckner was a favorite of the Nazi regime's cultural ministers while in recent years his work has even been compared to Zen mysticism (Celibidache among others). Whatever opinion one may have of the music, there can be little disagreement that Bruckner is a challenge, usually only tackled by the finest orchestras.
Stanisław Skrowaczewski is considered by many to be the finest living interpreter of Bruckner. Last Friday's performance at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis showed a man in complete control of the material, eliciting a majestic performance from the expanded ensemble and even touching an emotional high point in the famous Adagio. The 88-year Skrowaczewski, conducting without a score, delivered a definitive 8th. Only between movements could one sense what a struggle the 80 minute opus was. A touching moment occurred between the Adagio and the Finale, as Stanisław bent down and spoke softly to the first violinist while daubing his eyes with his handkerchief.
The prolonged standing ovations for this humble man were a heartfelt recognition for his lifetime of dedication to the highest of musical ideals.
In the audience were several groups of children who were of the same age I was when first I heard Skrowaczewski conduct. They were enthralled, just as I was— 50 years ago.
O Brave New World
Dowling Studio Lobby
After scoring a pair of comps (thanks Reid!) the Weaver and I were able to attend a pair of one-act plays at the Guthrie Theater's Dowling studio. In the intimate "box" setting these new plays showcased 16 young actors from the University of Minnesota's B.F.A. Actor's Training Program. The first play, Victoria Stewart’s In Game or Real, is a modern riff on Shakespeare's The Tempest, "exploring the betrayals and epic wins possible in the virtual world of online video games." That may sound like a recipe for disaster but the extremely appealing cast along with the play's clever mixing of real and virtual "realities", made for a very enjoyable experience. Special note must be made of the efforts of Angela Janas and Paris Hunter Paul as love-struck lawyers working on opposing sides of an effort to reconcile feuding RPG creators whose game becomes a nice metaphor for the battle of the sexes. Lively direction and a stunning fight choreography (Suzy Messerole and Annie Enneking, respectively) made this play a hoot from start to finish.
Gregory S. Moss’ dreamlike drama Golden Age portrays a tribe of runaways striving to forge an alternative family. This was a more serious play, dealing with youthful alienation and desire. Another good cast, although the play's dialog veered uneasily between teen vernacular and high drama— at times very effective, at times downright clunky. That said, the story was well structured and reached a satisfying conclusion. Benjamin McGovern's direction was a touch static, possibly constrained by the nature of the play.
Both of these productions would be standouts in a fringe festival, In Game or Real was immensely entertaining, while Golden Age (with some reworking) has probably the the greatest potential.
Sharon flitting and fitting in.
Pamper yourself with Sharon, Fridays.
Used by permission.
The sky was no longer black by the time we approached the Icelandic coastline. Beneath the scudding clouds below us a solitary light shone from a house perched on a rocky jetty. I wondered what type of person could live there at "the end of the world" in such apparent isolation. But the world was different now, certainly different from what it was like twenty years ago, when there was no real internet, and different even from ten years ago, when the web was just starting to gain momentum. The house below me was probably as connected as I was at home, with internet, satellite TV and all the modern amenities. Billy and I had been at the forefront of that internet revolution; while I was looking for secret passages and back doors hiding secrets Billy spent his time looking for his next big score. My thrill was in sussing out access into a system while Billy reveled in grifting "suckers".
I had last seen Billy in 2010, at our five year CMU reunion. He had been drinking pretty heavily before the dinner. Later, when we finally did get together, he was even more in the bag. He seemed reluctant to talk about what he'd been up to. The reunion was held during the height of the Wikileaks controversy; when I mentioned it to him he quickly changed the subject. Until then I didn't think he was much into politics. He'd always kept his political views to himself, possibly to due to the strained relationship he had with his father. He didn't seem to be very happy. I wonder if he'd been in Iceland during that time. Iceland had been a center for Wikileaks activity then but had quieted down since Julian Assange had been placed under house arrest. If Billy was still involved with Assange it might explain why he had dropped out of sight. Strangely, Assange had recently been given a show on Russian TV, but I couldn't see Billy involved with the Russians at all.
"Sean— seriously, if you need a break from your "Scandinavian Studies" call me, leave me a message. I'll be at the Hotel Borg. There's no harm in having a drink with someone." Sally was awake, and had evidently been talking, I hadn't been paying attention until she spoke my name.
"Okay Sally, I'll see how it goes, but I'm sure we'll meet again- it's a small island!" I smiled at her, pleasantly non-committal. The plane was beginning its final descent through swirling clouds of mist. All I could see outside the window was the flashing light on the tip of the wing. Suddenly the clouds were behind us. The mossy lava fields below quickly gave way to the tarmac. We touched down and fifteen minutes later I was walking into the Leifur Eiríksson Air Terminal.
Photo Tip #429- Making Images Look Old
A good way to to produce an "old" looking picture is to start with an old camera.
Step one: I had scrounged a "Cerio Firenze", an Italian 35mm Leica wanna-be, from a camera store which was glad to be rid of it. It was a dreadful thing— a piece of iron bent to form the body, a 50mm f8 (!) lens in a crude brass barrel containing a flip-flop spring shutter, a simple advance knob and a top and bottom plate covered in black paint.
Step two: Use grainy, outdated film, preferably manufactured in an Eastern European country.
Step three: Find some decrepit thing to take a picture of, in this case a building that housed the machinery to pump caustic lime into a holding pond.
Step four: Develop the film in a hap-hazard way, using over-agitation to enhance the grain structure.
Step five: Print the image using a cheap enlarger.
Step six: Put the print in a box and leave it, undisturbed, for forty years. Don't be tempted to shorten this step!
Step seven: Scan the print, sharpening the grain even more.
Step eight: Publish on your blog!
For the last twenty-five years or so there has been a photographic swap meet held twice a year in my metro area. It is the home of orphan cameras- cameras that have outlived their usefulness, even if they are still perfectly useable. It has been dwindling in scope every year, the digital revolution in photography has pretty much killed the market in film cameras. The older digital cameras are nearly worthless as well- they are obsolete in two or three years.
Still, there are the die-hards (myself included) who come back year after year. This time I had some equipment that I wasn't using and I did manage to sell enough to make it worth my while. Paradoxically, the stuff I thought no one would want went right away. My high-end stuff (some of it current models) only got a nibble. The sellers are all getting older, veterans of a scene that is rapidly vanishing. In the future, will any photographic equipment be worth anything? The four most popular cameras in on Flicker are all cell phones- some models are "free" with service plans. I don't know. I do think that this kind of camera swap meet is not long for this world, however.
Cirque du Sharon
The world today doesn't make sense, so why should
I paint pictures that do?
Hang with Sharon at FITK
Used by Permission
July 3, 2004
My pals Emma and Helga and Kristín were hot on going to the Navy Base Club so I said I'd be the driver. I felt I owed them as much for what they've done for me but I regretted it the minute I said I would. I'd been to the club before when I was drinking and wasn't impressed so I really wasn't looking forward to going when sober. Anyway, we drove down to the base where we signed a bunch of papers to get on the base and then a man had to sign to let us into the club as well. I thought it was a lot of fuss just to go to a dive joint but I wasn't going to bitch because it was the girls' night out.
First thing when I get in the door I notice Billy, the hotshot who's says he is the son of a U.S. Senator, standing with all his friends at the bar and then he turned and noticed me as well. They were whispering to each other as we walked by and when we sat down on the other side of the room they were all staring with smirks on their faces. Obviously he thought I must be stalking him since I'm in his club at the U.S. base. Cue "Your so Vain" on the soundtrack.
Every now and again Billy led his friends on a tour to our table until they all knew exactly who the crazy stalker girl was. I had only seen him twice- once last weekend at Gaukurínn where we talked for a only little while, and then again when I ran into him on Laugi Thursday- when he asked me for my number. Of course he didn't call. What is with these Americans? I don't care if his father is the Pope of Rome, at least he could call me. Once. One of his friends tried to show an interest in me at the club but I just ignored him rather than fall for that kind of pick-up routine. Not that his friend was too ugly but I thought that any friend of Billy who would try such a trick must be somehow deranged.
Because all of that action wasn't quite enough fun for one night we then went to a strip club. When the bar lady found out I wasn't drinking she was nice enough to give me a glass of coke. While we were there all the usual stuff happened: some sketchy old lady asked me if I wanted a private show, then a drunken guy wanted us to hit on his married co-worker. The strippers walked around patting the Navy guys on the ass (to see how much money they had!) then after a while Billy and his friends came in so we gave up and went home. Both girls passed out in the car. So it was just me awake to greet the sun coming up over highway 41.
I think it might be a while until I go sober to a club again. It's just too depressing. What's up with Billy by the way, does he honestly think I'm just desperately in love with him and that I intentionally hunt him down? It's a small island, I can't help it if I keep running into him.
Posted at 0330 by Silu
So that was what Billy was up to that summer- I wondered where he had disappeared to for weeks at a time. His game was the same, only the field was different. He would pick his next conquest, alternately ignore or pay casual attention to her, and then turn on the heat as he went for the kill. From the young woman's conflicted blog post (which Billy had saved on his college computer) it was evident that his sleazy charm had worked as well in Iceland as it had in the states. He must have had some success with her if he kept this post. I'd have to read more from her blog, although I bet she wouldn't have felt like writing about him after her dumped her. Maybe Billy might have had a change of heart, and that the reason he came back was that he had really fallen for someone this time. Not very likely. There were probably a half-dozen others, but I made a mental note and have someone back at intelligence in Seattle see if they could find this "Silu", she might be the key to Billy's whereabouts.
Sally had stopped snoring and began to stir, so I shut down my laptop and looked out the airplane's window. There were a just traces of northern lights dancing in the distance. No midnight sun this early in the year, but the days would soon be much longer.
I love America.
Aldrei fór ég Suður
The other big pop music festival in Iceland was held last weekend in remote Ísafjörður and was webcast live via the Aldrei fór ég suður site. Fortunately, highlights from past shows are archived there - as I suspect this year's show will soon be. While not all of the acts are really ready for this kind of exposure, it was nevertheless a fascinating look at the Icelandic music scene and the extra footage of the town and the festival goers offers a great window for the armchair traveler. There was even a live on-stage marriage proposal during Reykjavík's act! Most groups sing in Icelandic; some of the performers are very unique or exciting:
Orphix Oxtra (2011,2012), Nerdy modern jazz, lots of weird meters and jagged melody lines.
Sóley (2011), Beautiful folk-rock from a fabulous singer/songwriter.
Páll Óskar (2011,2012), Even more fabulous and endlessly charismatic, although he mostly features his disco hits done to backing tracks in these shows.
Retro Stefson has come a long way since I first saw them in 2006. They have literally grown up in the public eye. Real crowd-pleasers, they were the climax of the festival.
The site is definitely worth a bookmark if you intend to go to Airwaves- it is a tremendous reference. As true high speed internet (fiber-optic) becomes more prevalent I can see how this kind of presentation may ultimately supplant regular broadcast media. My broadband connection of the live material was adequate, but the archived HD video is far smoother- although by its being edited it loses some of the live "electricity" of the event.
The Easter Sharon
And on the third day Sharon rolled eggs instead of stones.
The great mysteries explained by Sharon, Good Fridays at FITK
Used by Permission
Rites of Spring
Almost as far back as I can remember Spring has meant the return of baseball. These memories take on an almost mythic quality now, perhaps because they were possibly the only activity which a child could participate in that had an adult dimension. Once you got a slight mastery of the basic fundamentals you were "in the club" and ready to play, you could to follow teams and players, and, in our Northern climate, you could be outdoors.
Scattered mental images:
Buying baseball cards at Galenos grocery ("Duke Snider? He's washed up!")...
Playing against little league teams with real uniforms and sponsors- teams which had old men as coaches...
Going to an exhibition game and seeing Willie Mays pinch-hit a home run against the Minneapolis Millers...
Getting your own Mickey Mantle baseball glove...
Watching the Yankees play the Red Sox in old Fenway Park on a murky black and white TV...
Meeting 'Moose' Skowron in our neighborhood IGA...
Baseball played in tennis courts with a tennis ball...
Wiffleball played in the back yard...
Endless days of 'hell softball' 2 against 2 or 3 against 3 in 90° heat...
... the list of this pointless, innocent and cheap fun goes on and on.
Now, baseball is moneyball...
All grown up...
Not so much fun anymore.
Eight Miles High
"Hah! Hi, I'm Sally O' Donnell, what's your name?"
My trip started off with a bang. The vivacious middle-aged red-haired woman next to me was a talker- my plan of disappearing into the upholstery was doomed, I could surmise as much from first glance. Better to be cordial, yet non-committal, or better yet, be absolutely boring.
"Hi. I'm Sean."
"Sean? Sean from Seattle, huh? Hah! What brings you aboard this flight?"
"Sounds boring. I'm going for some action, a change of scenery, a change of luck."
"Well, I'm certain that you'll find the scenery unique, although I've never been a believer in luck."
"Oh I believe in luck alright. Some good, some bad. Lucky in love, I'm not. After my last husband referred to me as his 'entropy wife', I knew that the fire was out. Hah! How about you, I mean not like I'm hitting on you, hah!, but are you attached?"
"Yes, I'm in a relationship."
"Oh, too bad for you. We could see the midnight sun, you and I, you know, exotic locale, no one knows who you are, I'm kidding of course, or am I?"
Wow. We hadn't even left the ground yet and I was already in trouble with a bona fide looney.
"Really, Ms. O' Donnell, I'm spoken for."
"Just breaking the ice. Don't be offended. Call me Sally."
I had really wanted to open my laptop and read some of Billy's old emails and blog contacts, but as we took off I thought it better that 'Sally' know nothing of them. Better to go with being boring.
"Sally, you are really something. If I were free, I just might take you up on your offer. But, alas, my heart is betrothed to another, perhaps in another lifetime?"
"Aw, a real nice guy! Oops! We just left the ground! I like this part of the flight, this and the landing, the rest is boring."
We were climbing, and soon we were over the Cascades in the fading sunlight, headed Northeast to Hudson's Bay, then to Greenland, to Keflavík and, ultimately, to Reykjavík.
"Sally, I've read that when traveling more than three time zones, if you don't eat until you arrive you'll avoid jet-lag."
"Well that might be true, but I'm starving, and I could use a drink!"
"The drinks are on me, it isn't every day I have such a boon companion."
"Thank you, Sean, I'll take you up on that."
By the time we reached Greenland Sally was snoring, and I took out my lap-top.
Fish Leather and Dreams of Iceland
Fashion, Skólavörðurstígur, 2004
For all you dreamers out there...
It's been a while since I've done an overview of the Icelandic sites I've been visiting recently. There seems to be a resurgence of interest in Iceland, at least in the blogosphere. I've found several new sites and some of my old faves have been especially inspired lately. So, without further ado and in no particular order, respectfully submitted for your consideration:
The Saga-Steads of Iceland: A 21st-Century Pilgrimage by Emily Lethbridge, a 31-year-old Cambridge-based academic researcher. She is really into Iceland, past and present- a true fanatic.
Rósir og hraunbreiður (Roses and Lava) by Unnur Birna Karlsdóttir (Google translated) offers an intriguing look at Iceland and modern life.
Nancy Campbell is a writer and printmaker currently living in Siglufjörður.
I've mentioned I Heart Reykjavík before. This site keeps on getting better, an absolute must for anyone traveling to Reykjavík for the first time (or returning- things are changing rapidly.) Auður has the scoop on food, fashions and fun.
Maria Roff's Iceland Eyes has been especially fine lately with insightful essays complementing her eclectic photography. An honest portrayal of Iceland and also full of ideas of things to see and do.
Jono's Otto's son blog is from another Iceland-dreamer, he lives in Northern Minnesota, but has a genetic connection.
I'd Rather Be In Iceland by "Eva Lind" (no, she isn't Inspector Erlendur's daughter) says it all in the title. Hopelessly infatuated.
wdvalgardson's kaffihus is the blog of another "Western Icelander", the author is a true author, and his posts are exceptional- not for short-attention spans. His posts on Halldór Laxness' The Fish Can Sing and Paradise Regained are featured in the Laxness in Translation site.
Finally, that teen-age girl-group Pascal Pinon is touring Japan (What were you doing when you were 17?) in support of their album, with a new "Japan-only" EP. The link takes you to an index of sites related to PP. Don't forget to check out Ásthildur's home-made video including clips from their younger sisters- very dream-like!