Monday, December 30, 2013

Year-end Clearance

… life is a series of people wanting to be touched, and of people making big bad mistakes in the name of lust.   ~Maria Alva Roff
Lately, numerous and varied cultural artifacts have been impinging on the Professor’s suggestible cerebellum. The pine-paneled garret which is Flippist World Headquarters has been filling up with works about Philosophy, Art, Iceland and Women. I’m going to open the mental spigots and let impressions flow out in a chaotic torrent. Bear with me if you find this post lacking coherence.

My bathroom book of late has been The Oxford Illustrated History of Western Philosophy edited by Anthony Kenny, a reasonably concise summation of the last 2500 years of “Western Thought” or, as I would have titled it, How We Got Into This Mess. All the great philosophers are studied, all are found lacking and yet, strangely, political systems have been built on those inflexible ideas. In an oblique way that book dovetails with another book I recently read: The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Taleb, which deals with improbable events and their consequences. Taleb, a financial analyst, posits that current “risk-modelling” is based on logically false premises; that isolated and unpredictable events have more important consequences than does historical analysis. Extinction events (meteor impacts, super-eruptions, thermonuclear war) have more long-term impact than the usual cyclical upheavals of existence. Setting up financial systems with players “too big too fail” ignores this phenomenon, not only doing nothing for stability, but actually insuring a more devastating collapse when a rare “black swan” event does occur.

A conversation I was having last year in a Reykjavík bistro had turned to blogging. Silja, my companion that afternoon, had asked me how my interest in Icelandic blogs started and what were some similar themes I found in them. I mentioned that all of those blogs were written by women and that although most of them were Icelandic by birth, each of them had spent part of their childhood abroad. They each felt, to varying degrees, estranged from the Icelandic culture. Most of them, at one time or another, had suffered with “commitment issues” with men, although I said that didn’t think that was related to Iceland as much as it was a commonality of “Generation X”. I recently re-read the book of that title by the Canadian author Douglas Coupland and although the book is old enough to drink, its themes of alienation still seem as relevant today as when it was published.

It would be a mistake to read too much of Coupland’s anomie into any specific blog (conflict is necessary in almost any literature, satisfied people make lousy writers), most of those Icelandic bloggers we discussed that day have made significant changes in their relationships in the nine years since I discovered them. Their sometimes amazing stories have been recorded for posterity on the internet; some of these bloggers have even made the transition to the physical reality of a book. Alda Sigmondsdóttir, blogger and professional writer, has even published four. Her latest, Unravelled, is a tale of personal and political intrigue. I haven’t read it (yet) but it has been getting good reviews.

A book which I have read is Maria Alva Roff’s incendiary 88 (her second.) Having actually spent several hours in intense conversation with her during the time she was writing this book precludes the chance of a dispassionate review. I’ll just say that reading this slim volume is nothing like a genteel browsing through a personal memoir, it’s more akin to diving into a psychological mælstrom. “Alva” taps into some very deep primal forces in an internal monolog which takes place in the span of 88 days, the time between her reaching the age of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s death to the “end of the world” as predicted by the Mayan calendar. The numerology is explained in the link; not knowing it might throw an unprepared reader for a loop—not that that is a bad thing! You can order it through this link. To see Maria in her element, on the receiving end of some “touching” (at 1:11), click through to this video. Maria was also recently featured on BBC radio talking about women in government (starts at 10:35).

In the book Maria touches upon being a single mother, a theme which has been haunting me of late. Films as disparate as Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, Ben Stiller’s new The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (great Iceland scenery) and most of the Wes Anderson ouvré use missing or remote fathers as a central plot device. Grace Kelly’s character in Thief is searching for a father-figure (Cary Grant) as much as she is a lover. Stiller’s Walter Mitty character has not only suffered the loss of a father but he finds himself enamored of a single mother and her son. Wes Anderson’s most recent film, Moonrise Kingdom, has an orphan and a girl whose father is estranged to her as motivations for the action. At my own family Christmas gathering this year there more single mothers than those who were married, a situation that would have been almost unthinkable in my youth. Where are the men? What is the philosophy behind that situation?

So, what does all my this rambling mean? Things change. Philosophy, the tenets of which civilizations are built upon, has changed, albeit slowly, over the centuries, often with unforeseen consequences. Modern life has increased the rate of this change, but the needs of the human organism haven’t kept up with them. There is a true revolution in human communication going on, however. My medium of choice, blogging, has been declared dead on more than one occasion but blogs still persist, at least as a personal platform for short-form essays and stories. Interpersonal communication is threatened by instant media such as Twitter and Instagram, while the Facebook juggernaut seems to be losing steam. Peoples’ tastes change but very little culture ever really disappears, at least within a human lifespan. Those marginal aspects of culture just get smaller. The coming year finds FITK as another blank slate. I have no grand design, much less any short term plans. I may revisit my fiction (a sequel?), and certainly will continue the photo-illustrations, but as far as written content is concerned it will be anything goes; as it has been so it will continue.

Thanks for stopping in–regulars and lurkers–and a very special thanks to all those who have inspired me in the past and continue to do so. And here's a toast to those isolated and unpredictable events, as well as of those mundane, all those things which make life the miracle which it is. Þetta reddast.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 7 

Friday, December 27, 2013


These daughters of Reykjavík say more than I ever could about the mysterious powers of Icelandic women.

More on Icelandic women (along with my year-end wrap up) Monday.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Gleðileg jól!

Tónlistarmenn, Öskjuhlíð, Reykjavík, 2004

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Monday, December 23, 2013

'Tis the Season

Shopping for one Christmas meal is trying enough, let alone three.

Today the store wasn't too crazy but I'm sure it will be worse tomorrow.

At any rate I'm done and we should have enough left-overs to last for the remainder of the year.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Snowball Fight!

Listafn Einars Jónssonar, Reykjavík, March, 2006

The Art of Play

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Jazz Barista

   It was yet another cold Sunday, I crept into the Northeast Minneapolis coffee house to warm up. My hands can't stand the cold anymore. I wrapped them around a nice Mocha, Dave Brubeck's Blue Rondo á la Turk was playing on a boom box. I got to talking to the barista about the music. About how it was a breakthrough album—the tune Take Five was actually a pop hit. I tried not to sound like a know-it-all geezer, but the young guy seemed cool with it. Maybe he was a musician. He said always liked Miles' Kind of Blue record, an album recorded only a few weeks before Brubeck's Time Out. Our conversation petered out; I spent some time reading the messages posted on the shop's fridge that was only a few feet in front of me.

   Some new customers came in and the mood was broken. The barista went back to work, and I left.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Party Conversation

Viðey, 9 October, 2012

An old friend and I we talking at a recent holiday party.

Our conversation drifted toward Christmas songs. She said she hated most of them, the modern ones especially, how empty they were, except for Merry Xmas, War is Over. When I mentioned that I had seen Yoko Ono last year she became very interested. I told her about the Imagine Peace Tower and how I, along with hundreds of people from all over the world, gathered on an island in the Reykjavík bay, on a rainy October night, and about how Yoko humbly spoke about John’s legacy, and about world peace and health and living in harmony. When I spoke of when they began playing John’s Imagine and people began to sing along I began to get a little choked up. I described how the base of the light was circled with white tiles engraved with the word Imagine in hundreds of languages, and her how the light started up in sections, ultimately creating a massive light tower touching the clouds above.

She said she wished she could have been there.

I didn’t tell of after the ceremony how I wandered around the nearly pitch-black island. Or about finding the small building where they sold beer and had a duo playing folk tunes, and people came in to warm up a little. Of how dream-like it all was, strange yet peaceful.

Waiting for the ferry was another dream. I didn’t speak of that either, for the subtle magic of the scene was impossible to describe.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 3 

Friday, December 13, 2013


I spent the morning on Craigslist, looking for out-of-the-ordinary Christmas gifts. I spotted an interesting sale that caught my eye at a place out in the country. The seller was an amiable older gentleman, probably in his mid eighties. He said that he and his wife were trying to get rid of some things; they were going to move somewhere a little easier to take care of. The item I was interested in had a story, it once belonged to his grandfather, and then his younger brother. He finally ended up with it; it had been collecting dust on top of a bookcase for years. He said that didn’t know too much about it:
It was just what I needed, yet another amplifier. This one was a bit different than any of my other ones, however. This was one of the very earliest audio amplifiers made for the consumer market, made in 1922 or 1923. It was suitable for a radio or microphone input and I would estimate it was designed to deliver about a watt or two of audio output to an old-style horn speaker. I had thoughts of buying and restoring it, but upon looking at the inside and seeing that it had been tampered with, I decided against it.
It would be a beautiful objet d'art, however, with its chromed hardware and finely finished cabinet. I could even configure it so the tubes would light up and be controlled by the massive switches. It was definitely not the cheesy "Magnavox" radio we grew up with in the fifties.

The seller had someone else coming to look at it, I suggested he ask for about $200, it would be probably worth three times that much if it was operational. I left him my number with an low offer and told him to give me a call in a week if he hadn't sold it.

Fifty dollars for a dust-catcher, no matter how cool, is about my limit.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Gods Old and New

American Gods

A novel by Neil Gaiman
Tenth Anniversary edition, William Morrow, 2010

Nordic Gods and Heroes

Translated by Padraic Colum
Illustrations by Willy Pogany
Dover, 1996, reprint of The Children of Odin, Macmillian, 1920

   I picked up the Colum book in Colorado Springs on a recent road trip. I needed another book for the road, something to unwind with after driving all day. These old stories still hold their appeal—the Thor "franchise" is currently filling the cinemas! Recently, the Weaver mentioned that her current library book, Neil Gaiman's American Gods, had some of the same characters as my Nordic Gods book. I had thoroughly enjoyed the cinematic adaptation of Gaiman's Coraline (a horror story for five-year-olds, as the author put it) and reading American Gods, a book aimed at a much older audience, did not disappoint. Gaiman's twist in the novel is in placing the ancients in a modern American Midwest context. Gaiman reworked the book a bit for this edition, some reviews I had read of the original version suggested it was a little choppy in parts, this newer version, with 12,000 additional words, is seamless. This books works on numerous levels—horror, mystery, fantasy, and even as a study of Americana.

   Both of these books are VERY TALL TALES, great yarns full of preposterous situations, many of which are quite gruesome. As an example, I'll leave you with this illustration from the Colum book; there is also a scene with a similar "thrust" in American Gods as well:

Willy Pogany, 1920

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Monday, December 09, 2013

The Artist and the Collector

Caitlin Karolczak, Untitled, 2011

A Sunday morning,  an open studio event for the holidays, the last day of four. A jazz trio was making appropriate noises in the reception area. The studio I was looking for was at the end of a dimly lit hallway.  Walking in, it seemed that except for an inquisitive brown poodle, there was no one there. I began looking at the large canvases on the walls. Some were new, some I had seen before. There were more than a few I would have loved to own: stunning, macabre, masterfully painted, done in a muted Renaissance style. Uneasy undercurrents of death and perversity seemed to be emerging from the paint. A self-portrait of the artist as St. Agatha was profoundly disturbing. After a minute or two, I heard a rustling from the back of the cluttered studio. Turning around, I saw the artist. I had been to several of her events before and had even purchased a small piece. I had always regretted not buying more. Those events were always crowded, attended by a younger art crowd. Today, with only the two of us (and the dog), the mood was very different.

   "Would you like some hot cider?"

   "Yes, a little, thank you."

   "If you see any specks, they're cloves."

   There were a couple of bins of smaller works, pieces within my budget. Many portraits and half-figures, mostly boys and young men; variations on a theme. Some pieces contained old lithographs, transformed with additional drawing and painting. I don't remember exactly how our conversation began, but I did mention that I had purchased one of her smaller works before. She asked what it was, I started to describe it, she knew it right away—even taking the descriptive words out of my head before I was able to speak them. We talked about her art, about the art world, about the difficulty of making it outside of New York or L.A.. I tried, without being too weird about it, to let her know how much I appreciated her efforts, her pursuit of her most singular vision in the middle of flyoverland. I asked about her use of very old photo albums and mentioned I had one she might be interested in.  She spoke:

   "Come here, I've got something to show you, something someone gave me."

   Hanging on the wall in the back was a memento mori mourning shadowbox, I've seen others, but this one was exceptional.

   "It's not the kind of thing people like to have on their walls." She said.

   "Is that braided hair sculpture at the bottom?"


   "It's strange to think of, to think that a person's DNA is in there."

   "There's a lot of DNA lying around this studio."

   I did get another small piece, more abstract than most of her other work. We talked a little more, about how slow it was—no one else came in in the half hour I had been in there. Maybe it was the weather?

   "My work isn't really popular as a Christmas gift."

   A gift to myself, then, the kind of thing I like hanging on my walls.

   I wonder how much of the artist's DNA is in it.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Friday, December 06, 2013

Sun dogs

View from Flippist World Headquarters, 4 December, 2013

My morning was greeted by two suns yesterday due to the formation of "sun dogs." The recent snow, followed by brisk winds and a cold snap put trillions of microscopic ice crystals into the atmosphere, forming beautiful mirrors of the sunrise. It almost made all the shoveling I did seem worthwhile.


By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Incident on Þjoðvegur

Hvalfjörður, March 2004

It was my second trip to Iceland.

It had snowed on the day I arrived. In the morning the street outside of my guesthouse was covered with slush as I walked to the Hertz rental, a few blocks away. Getting my car, I headed out on Highway 1 to Snæfellsness to experience the glacier's spiritual essence. I drove under under a fjörd, through one of those creepy Icelandic tunnels, tunnels which looked as if they had been burrowed by Elves. As I emerged from the abyss the low clouds above me were extremely dark, yet the mountain tops in the distance across the fjörd were glowing, almost incandescent. I pulled the tiny rented Yaris over to the side of the road. The spectacle was so intense I began to doubt the reality of my senses. I took several pictures but they couldn't do it justice.

At that moment I knew I'd be coming back again.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Monday, December 02, 2013

Cyber Monday Madness

   I've been looking for a new laptop. Not real serious-like, but it would be nice to have something better for working with images- more memory, a better screen and a bigger and faster SSD. The kicker is that my 6+ year-old laptop still functions, and thanks to upgrades, it works even better now than it did when it was new. I had zeroed in on a MacBook Pro with the "retina display", 8GB of RAM, and at least a 512GB Drive. Total cost = $1800. Ouch.

   So, yesterday I was reading the Sunday paper (I know, "how quaint", but the paper pays for itself in coupons.) In the Best Buy flyer there was a page of "Cyber Monday Specials" -prices good only good on Monday, there was a MacBook pro shown with no price. "It's probably just $50 off, with a gift card or something" I thought. This morning, just for fun, I went to the Best Buy web site and there it was:

   Oh boy. $200 bucks off on a computer that almost never goes on sale. I wasted the rest of the morning vacillating over this extravagant purchase. It would be a GREAT major Christmas present, but at our family that amount of money equals about TEN major Christmas presents.  The way things work around here my Christmas options are either the MacBook Pro or socks.

   I'm writing this at 5:30 P.M. I'll be dithering about this for the next 6 and a half hours.

UPDATE: Socks win!

NEW UPDATE: Computer wins! (I found a similar model for MUCH LESS!)

By Professor Batty

Comments: 5 

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