Friday, June 29, 2012

Sharon's Crocs

Sharon whistles as she stalks.

I walk the line with Sharon, Fridays at FITK

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Water Has Memory

This is chapter 14 of Window Weather, a serial fiction novel on FITK

Sean woke up with a headache. It was a little past noon—5 a.m. Seattle time—and once he figured out where he was and what he had done the night before he knew why he felt so strung out. He remembered what the man on the shuttle bus had told him about the swimming pools in Reykjavík. A brochure on the table next to his bed gave the locations. Sean had several hours to kill before his meeting with Billy and he thought that a swim and a soak would do him good. His mind was still on the emails from Molly and Mrs. Robinson, he was especially concerned with Molly’s comment about ‘the guy sitting in the car.’ In his reply, Sean told her to get a picture of the guy and his car—if she could do it without being too obvious. Mrs. Robinson’s email concerning the Russians was also troubling. After the events of last night, Sean knew here was definitely something going on with Billy and them. Grabbing a banana as his breakfast, Sean headed out.

The walk to the pool was stimulating. Almost every house or apartment that Sean passed had some form of artwork prominently displayed in their windows, Sean found himself smiling in spite of his anxieties.

Situated in a residential area about a mile from the apartment, the pool complex was  built of concrete in a post-war Euro-Modern style. After paying for an admission, the desk clerk steered Sean toward the flight of stairs that lead down to the men’s changing area. It was a nice place—tastefully furnished in wood and tile—and surprisingly bright for a locker room. A group of older men (evidently regulars) were talking among themselves in the area adjacent to the shower. Sean realized that the pool was as much a community center as it was a place to swim. Everyone was naked. Sean dutifully scrubbed and showered as per the instructions of the imperative graphic that was prominently displayed on the wall. He put on his suit and walked outside to the pool area. The air was quite cool but once in the water, Sean was deliciously warm.

A swimming lane was open and Sean managed a couple of laps. He then got out and walked over to the hot pots. The water in the first pot was warmer than that of the pool, but Sean wanted something hotter—hot enough to erase any jetlag that remained. In the next pot, which was a couple of degrees warmer, were three people: an elderly man and woman and a heavy-set, olive-skinned younger man.

“Góðan daginn,” the elder man said.

Sean replied, “Good day to you, too.”

“Æ, an American, yes, and what brings you to our little pool at the end of the world?”

“A little getaway, I’m also visiting an old friend from school.”

“Where are you from in America?” said the younger man, who spoke with a slight Spanish accent.

“From Seattle, most recently, but I’ve lived in a couple of places in the States. You must have come from somewhere else as well?”

“I am from Madrid, here on business.”

“And you two, you are from here, no doubt?”

The woman smiled and nodded and the man spoke: “Yes, I’ve been here all my life, except when I was out fishing. I’ve been to Seattle too, but it was many years ago.”

“I’ve only lived there a few months,” Sean replied, trying not to reveal too much.

“I’ve fished all around the world,” said the older man, “I even went to Japan to study their fishing methods. I learned their way of casting nets. I was able to catch more fish and use less fuel than any of the other Icelandic trawler captains.”

“Do you still get out on the ocean?”

“No, I’m retired, this is my water now. But sitting in here I can remember.  The water has memory, you see, the water has memory.”

“An admirable philosophy, my friend,” said the man who was entering the hot pot, “You know, it so happens that the only philosophy I truly believe in concerns water as well.” It was the same man Sean that had spoken with on the Flybus.

“Welcome professor... Shallbetter, I believe it is?” said Sean,  “Join in, we’re conducting an international symposium on all things important. Tell us your philosophy of water.”

“Simply put: water is good. I know it isn’t much of a theory. You don’t have to believe in it either—unless you are thirsty.” All the people in the pool laughed. The professor continued:  “It isn’t really my theory. I borrowed it from Halldór Laxness.”

“I should know who that is, I think,” said Sean, “But I have a feeling that my college computer science classes were somewhat deficient in their coverage of Scandinavian philosophers.”

“He was the greatest Icelandic author of the twentieth century, a Nobel laureate and Socialist-Catholic-Taoist,” said Shallbetter.  “As a philosopher, you would be hard-pressed to find one who was a better commentator on the human condition.”

The Spaniard began talking about American politics, specifically the presidential race.

“Fascists… ” he declared, with an emphasis on the sibilance of the ‘s’ sounds, “… an inevitable result of unbridled political power. American politics is heading toward a fascist state.”

The professor spoke up: “I am afraid you are right, my friend. The president has embraced it, and his main challenger, Senator Clarkson, is only the flip side of the same coin. Either one will use as much force as possible to maintain their hold on power.”

Things were beginning to heat up in Sean’s little hot pot at the end of the world.

Sean decided against revealing that he was working for Clarkson—not that he was in a direct political sense—but in the support of him nonetheless. It was really just another job, as far as Sean was concerned, except for his connection with Billy.

Addressing the retired Captain, Sean asked: “What about the Icelandic president? What are his aspirations?”

“Well, it is not the same here. The president is a figurehead—a suit and tie—trotted out to greet foreign dignitaries. He likes to pose with the big-shots, I think he really wants to be Icelandic royalty, like the King of Norway or the Queen of Denmark. King of Iceland, huh, he would be the new ‘Dog-Days King.’”

Another woman, who appeared to be in her mid-thirties, entered the hot-pot and began talking in Icelandic to the older woman. When the sun suddenly broke through the overcast, the conversation stopped. Sean squinted and, as the sun filtered through his eyelids spreading a warm, red glow over his field of vision, his whole body felt as if it were dissolving into in the hot water. Sean thought it would be a good time to take his leave—before he melted.

“Well, I am quite thoroughly cooked. It was a pleasure talking to all of you, and to meet you again Professor. What is the name of that author again?”

“Laxness. Halldór Laxness. He wasn’t a fascist, although he did support Stalin for a good while. Read his books, any of them, you can get them in the airport shops. He’ll set you straight.”

“Can you tell me what, besides water, is the gist of his philosophy?”

The Professor smiled.

“Oh, there is so much I wouldn’t know where to begin. Hm. This will have to do:
‘The correct understanding of life, let me tell you, is love despite everything. Love despite everything, that is the aim and object of life. Love, you see, is the only thing that pays in the long run, even though it might seem a dead loss in the short run.’
“It’s from World Light. Remember it.”

Next Chapter: The Pearl

By Professor Batty

Monday, June 25, 2012

Public Service Announcement


By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Sharon's Collage

King Arthur: “Now stand aside, worthy adversary.”
Black Knight: “'Tis but a scratch.”
King Arthur: "A scratch? Your arm's off.”
Black Knight: “No it isn't.”
King Arthur: “What's that, then?”
Black Knight: “[pause] I've had worse.”
King Arthur: “You liar.”
Black Knight: “Come on ya pansy.”

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Sharon's struggle, Fridays at FITK

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Love Letters Straight from Your Heart

My nightly constitutional has been turning up some "found" literature as of late. Saturday evening I spied this spiritual document on the boulevard near the firehouse:

The superhero allusion aside, this pledge seems sincere, although the wording of the last bit about "love my loved ones and love my enamys the same" might raise a little doubt about just how much the writer really cares for those closest to him.

The very next evening I found this somewhat disturbing note on the sidewalk at the end of my block. It had been neatly folded and placed under a smooth stone:

Are the two notes related? Is "Kill" the "enamy" of superhero "Jesuse?" Is this a sign of the apocalypse? I'll be watching my back, that is for sure.

We may be in for an interesting summer.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Prison of the Forgotten Dolls

I was on the prowl for some culture but the street art show was a bust.
Making my escape, I fled into the land of Failed Design- the antique mall. That was where, down in the darkest and most remote corner of the cellar, I found The Prison of the Forgotten Dolls. and among them this group of "friends", who, by their look of grim resignation, had been held captive long enough to have had their spirit broken:

Some of the little "friends" where there as well; the ugly cousins of The Great Beauty, not yet without hope:

There was also The Jilted Groom, The Disappointed Bridesmaid, the Bratty Kid Sister, and a couple of Sleeping Beauties who were waiting for the kiss to wake them from their eternal slumber:

But where was The Great Beauty herself?

The Fairest of them all?

The Great Beauty (and her alter ego, the Queen of Darkness) finally did appear...


I refused to believe my eyes!

Alas! The years have not been kind.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 3 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Sharon's Guitar Shop

Scrumptious strumtious bumptious pluck.

Pickin' and Grinnin' with Sharon, Fridays

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Thursday, June 14, 2012


This is chapter 13 of Window Weather, a serial fiction novel on FITK

Sean told the taxi driver to take him around the city. He didn’t want to chance having the thugs from the nightclub follow him and, besides that fact, he really hadn’t seen much of Reykjavík since he landed sixteen hours ago. The driver, Ole, was a tall man in his late 50s, and was, unlike the goons Sean had encountered earlier in the evening, most congenial.

“Já, just look for Hallgrímskirkja, then you know where you are. Some folks don’t like it, but you will never forget it,” said Ole as he pointed out the big concrete church on the hill that overlooked the town, His taxi was a Cadillac, Sean wondered if it had been his personal car before the crash—if he had been forced to take this job to make ends meet?

“You’ve come to Iceland before?”

“No, I’ve only been here a day,” said Sean, “I don’t know anything about Iceland, really.” The cab was leaving the center of town and had just gone past a huge structure with five tanks and a dome on top.

“What's that?’’ said Sean. He couldn't imagine what the building was for. It looked like an enormous spaceship.

“Perlan, the Pearl,” said Ole. “Those tanks are full of hot water from the geothermal springs. They have events in the center, between the tanks. The dome on top is a revolving restaurant for tourists. Too expensive for regular people. What do you like to eat? Iceland is the world’s best place for meat, you can get all kinds of fish, birds, reindeer, whale, horse, more kinds of lamb than you can imagine. Even the pylsur have lamb in them.”


“Já, hot dogs. They’re everywhere. ‘Eina með öllu.’ One with everything. You’ll see.”

After a half an hour of Ole’s commentary on Icelandic culture and politics, Sean relaxed, knowing that he hadn’t been followed. For the most part, the streets were empty. Sally’s wine was beginning to catch up with him so he gave the driver the address of his apartment. Ole knew the place.

“Jæ,jæ, jæ, across from the Russians.”

“What are they like? What goes on there?” Sean was still thinking about Billy’s little ‘detour’ onto the Embassy grounds.

“Oh, they don’t like it here much, those that work in the Embassy. Nothing for them to do, now that the cold war is over. It used to be different. They used to sit in Hornið—the restaurant on Hafnarstræti—where they could look at the American agents looking back at them. Now they mostly stay in the embassy. They have a man who brings them duty-free once a week. They don’t mingle.”

The taxi stopped in front of Sean’s apartment building.

“Já, you take my card, I work nights, after eight. Anything you need, I can get it.”

“Thanks, Ole, I may take you up on that,” said Sean.

By the time Sean got back into his apartment, it was 2 AM. He opened his laptop and saw that there were several emails waiting to be read:
May 3 (8 hours ago)

Sean, I hope your project is coming along. I don't want to sound like a whiner, but I guess I'm missing you more than I thought I would. Work is the sameoldsameold, nothing new there. News in Seattle is bad. Some guy went crazy and shot a bunch of people in a cafe and then killed himself, jeez it's creeping me out. When I came home tonight there was a guy just sitting in a car down at the end of the block. I know it's probably nothing, but you never can tell.

Come home soon,

Love you,


The other emails were all from Mrs. Robinson, they contained the locations where Billy had accessed the internet. The last message had some new information:
May 3 (1 hour ago)

to me
Sean: One of Billy's connections was to a Russian intelligence network just a little while ago. Be careful, those guys are merciless. Needless to say, if we can actually link Billy to the Russians it must remain a secret, the Senator's presidential hopes would be over if it ever got out.


As he was updating his map of Billy’s locations, Sean received an email notification. It was from Billy:
May 4, 2 minutes ago
to me
I heard you were in town.
Get out, next flight back is tomorrow.
Don't do anything stupid.
Tell the senator to go fuck himself.


Sean wrote back:

Billy, we've got to talk. Give me ten minutes and then I'll leave.
Name the place and time.

Five minutes later:
May 4, 1 minute ago
to me
Tomorrow afternoon


Sean dashed off a note to Molly and sent an acknowledgment to Mrs. R. He shut down his laptop, brushed his teeth and went to bed.

Next chapter: The Water Has Memory

By Professor Batty

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Terra Incognita

Focus Films

Moonrise Kingdom
A film by Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson's films are, in spite of all the strong design elements and quirky characterizations, an examination of the mysterious emotional underpinnings of human behavior. When he turns his attention to that most mysterious and emotional of all behavior, adolescence, the result is the awkward, funny and haunting Moonrise Kingdom. The story revolves around two twelve year-old "troubled" children, Suzy and Sam (Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman), and the reactions of their parents and authorities when the kids run away to seek a better life with each other.

It starts out slowly, the dialog of the children is stilted, even mumbled at times. Scenes have random moments of strangeness. But about halfway through it all starts to click, and the very gentle magic of the film grows. The adult cast is stellar— it's almost an embarrassment of riches: Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Harvey Keitel and, of course, Jason Schwartzman. But the story is about the kids, and the performances by Gilman and Hayward are artless yet perfect. If you can enjoy a movie that takes its time to develop and you can appreciate subtle and bittersweet humor, this might be the summer "adventure" film for you. You won't need a map either, if you follow your heart.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Summer Reading - II

Operation Napoleon
A Thriller
By Arnaldur Indriðason, Minotaur, 2010
Translated by Victoria Cribb

One way to beat the heat is to spend time being engrossed in chilly Icelandic crime fiction. Although this book isn't part of Arnaldur Indriðason's immensely successful Inspector Erlendur series (Erlendur does make an uncredited "cameo" appearance), it is a one-off mystery/thriller with a plot centered around a German plane which had crashed on an Icelandic glacier during the last days of World War II. Most of the action takes place in the year 2000 as the United States military is engaged in a clandestine recovery operation. The plane holds a terrible secret which still has the power to disrupt international relations. Kristín, a lawyer for the Icelandic Foreign Ministry, unwittingly becomes entangled with with this affair setting off a wild sequence of events to uncover the mystery.

This novel came out in Iceland in 1999; it was only recently translated. It is much less introspective than Arnaldur's other titles (it would make a dandy action flick), but it still retains a strong sense of setting and a few quirky Icelandic idioms. The plot is complex but well handled. The chain of events, while a bit far-fetched, never becomes ridiculous. Because it was written before the US closed its base at Keflavík in 2006, its sub-theme about the US military presence in Iceland adds an interesting historical perspective to the book. The Americans in it are, for the most part, villains and nasty ones at that. Exciting, fast-paced, not too challenging (I read it in one sitting) Operation Napoleon I found it to be perfect summer reading, especially compared to:

Available Dark
A Crime Novel
By Elizabeth Hand
Minotaur, 2012

This turgid mess of drug, death-metal music and Icelandic references masquerading as a book comes across as a lightweight parody of the Stieg Larsson thrillers. Told from the point of view of a 40-something female photographer and drug addict, it comes across as a quickie made in order to cash in on the Nordic crime craze. Gives a new meaning to the phrase "speed-read."


By Professor Batty

Comments: 4 

Friday, June 08, 2012

Sharon's Meadow

Do not follow where the path may lead.
Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sharon rested under the bodhi tree and looked back at her trail.

Sharon's trail crosses FITK every Friday

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Thursday, June 07, 2012

A Room With A View

This is chapter 12 of Window Weather, a serial fiction novel on FITK

“Care for something to drink, Sean?”

Sally had returned from the bathroom wearing a silk nightgown: oriental poppy orange emblazoned with a red and black dragon. Sean could see (from the glimpses of her arms and legs that peeked through the fabric) that Sally kept herself in shape. Maybe she could beat him up.

“Thanks, do you have any red wine?”

“I’d have thought you were a hard liquor kind of guy, you know—whiskey, gin, maybe a cocktail… shaken not stirred... ”

“I’m just a plain Sean, Sally, not Sean Connery, much less a James Bond.”

“So, who were those guys?” Sally said as she poured, “And what did they want with you?”

“I don’t know, really,” said Sean, “But I suspect that they weren’t there to welcome me to Iceland. I’ve been beaten up before. I know the signs.”

Sally handed Sean his wine. He was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was first-rate. No mini-bar vintages for Ms. O’Donnell.

“I take it they weren’t part of your Scandinavian studies program.”

“Hm. I hope tonight was an aberration.”

“Perhaps it was a case of mistaken identity?” said Sally, who was enjoying her role of interrogator.

Sean was taken aback at her comment—he hoped that it was a fluke. He began to think that her apartment might not be the best place to spend the night. It was time to change the conversation.

“How about you Sally? Any luck with the locals?” he said, intending to turn the spotlight away from himself.  Sean wanted to get back to his apartment but also didn’t want to tangle with those thugs from the nightclub. He wondered if they thought that Sean was Billy and they had some kind of score they wanted to settle with him.

“Well, I did make a dinner date for tomorrow night. A professor of some sort, an American. He seemed harmless enough. You never know about that kind, though. Most of them are hopeless neurotics but some are… enthusiastic. Hahaha! That’s how I met my last husband. He was VERY ENTHUSIASTIC. For a while anyway. With me that is. What about you, have you had much experience, I mean besides your current ‘relationship?’”

“There was someone, once, when I was just out of college,” said Sean, “She seemed to really love me, although I think what she really wanted was to get out of her parents’ control."

“That’s been the case more often than not with the experiences of my old girlfriends,” Sally said,  “I mean a guy is nice to have around, but it’s more important, at least for a lot of women, to have a life of one’s own. It is a rare man who can understand that a woman would feel that way. It is especially so with a younger man,” Sally said, “So, how did your ‘thing’ with her end up?”

“She just stopped loving me,” said Sean, “That’s what happened.”

“She kicked you out?”

“No, I think she still liked having a man around. But she really enjoyed the fact that she had been able to shut me out of intimacy. I think that was some kind of strange reverse conquest for her. I had to finally ask her to leave.”

“Were you seeing someone else?”

“I waited for twenty-fours,” said Sean, “The next one didn’t work out either, but for a whole different set of reasons.”

“Going from too much of nothing to too much of everything?”

“Something like that. I learned a lot. She had a ‘special’ wiggle,” said Sean, peeking out the window. The goons were gone.

“Ahahahah! Sean, you’re alright,” said Sally, as she let her gown open a bit, “Just between you and me… I could probably show you another thing or two... ”

Sally began looking better after Sean finished his first glass of wine. She was looking even better after he finished the second.

“Don’t feel that I’m not enjoying your company, Sally, but I think I’d better take a taxi back to my apartment.”

“Do you think it’s alright? I would feel terrible if something bad were to happened to you,” Sally said, looking straight at him, “But I understand. You really do want to remain faithful, don’t you?”

Sean couldn’t figure Sally out. There was more to her than she let on. He got the feeling that she was testing him.

“I’ll be fine,” said Sean, “There’s a taxi stand in front of the hotel.”

“I could see that you were fine from the moment I first saw you.”

Next Chapter: Ole

By Professor Batty

Tuesday, June 05, 2012


I'm wondering if there will be anything left by the time I get back to Reykjavík this October.

NASA, one of the main concert venues at Iceland Airwaves, has been closed, slated to be replaced by a modern hotel. It was a pretty good room. Like most older structures in the old town it had gone through many changes in its lifetime. Since I've started going to Iceland (March, 2000) the old town has been whittled away, buildings of character have been replaced by soul-less Modernist monstrosities or by nothing, thanks to the Kreppa. City planning seems to have been overtaken by crass economic development. It is unfortunate. The old town, with its small streets and mixed use is (or was) a perfect attraction by its very nature. Another big hotel, especially on an important square, won't add anything but more congestion.

Bob Cluness has more on the story of NASA's demise.

UPDATE: Its demolition was postponed for a while, but is due in 2017.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 4 

Monday, June 04, 2012

Ashes to Dust

by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Philip Roughton (Translator), Minotaur Books, New York, 2012

The third of the Þóra Guðmundsdóttir series (anglicized to Thóra Gudmundsdóttir in the US edition), this mystery continues the adventures of the Icelandic lawyer/sleuth who is drawn into the investigation of four old murders and one modern one. Most of the action takes place in the Westmann Islands where houses which had been buried since the 1973 Eruption are being unearthed for a "Pompeii of the North" attraction. The discovery of three bodies and a head in one of the buildings sets off a chain of events concerning the usual family and small town secrets which are Yrsa's stock in trade. Competently written, although Phillip Roughton's translation is a bit clunky at times, the multiple characters and the minutæ of plot elements remained clear throughout. Not so well handled was any sense of plausibility. The story wrapped up a bit too neatly for all of its messy details.

I've already reviewed to first two entries in the series; this one is a little better that the second (My Soul to Take) and much better than the first (Last Rituals). If your taste in mysteries tends toward the "jigsaw puzzle" type, these books might be just the thing you are looking for. The Icelandic references ring true, especially how the unique set of circumstances around the eruption created a massive upheaval in the lives of those who were present. Just after I finished this book, Rúv broadcast a feature on an actual house which had recently been uncovered! (In Icelandic.)

By Professor Batty

Comments: 3 

Friday, June 01, 2012

Sharon Corkscrew

Obsolete artifact with advent of screw top.
Metaphor for modernity at every turn.

Form follows function, Friday follows Sharon

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

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