Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Íslensk menning



My collection of Icelandic (and Faroese) books, music and films has grown dramatically during the last fifteen years. From a single book (Independent People) into this collection occupying two full shelves of the Flippist Archives™. Actually, there are even more books—nine Indriðason titles are on a shelf below. Pretty impressive output from a country of 321,000! Even more amazing when one considers that my Icelandic shelf space is 20% of all my media (except vinyl, and I even have a couple of Icelandic LPs!)

I'm starting to think that it won't get much bigger than this, however. The Icelandic music scene is starting to falter (Kimi records just went bankrupt) and its film industry, while still vital, is starting to be incorporated in the world cinema—Balthazar Kormakur is now directing Mark Wahlberg action flicks! The book section might keep growing however, and I haven't even started reading Gunnar Gunnarsson.

I'm not a hoarder. Every couple of years I mercilessly thin out my books and CD's. If I don't think I'll ever visit a title again out it goes.

I know I'll be seeing my Íslenskir vinir again and again.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 5 




Saturday, February 23, 2013

Safe House



   “Do you have any idea the ruckus that your little charade has created? The media is having an orgasm.” The FBI agent coolly appraised Sean, looking for some sign of weakness.

   “Honestly, I have been held incommunicado in the hospital for over a week. I have no ideas about anything anymore.” Sean didn’t know what the agents were looking for. He thought he’d let them do as much of the talking as possible, “Can you fill me in?”

   “Well, it started with the Seattle medical examiner. He figured out, via dental records, that the body that was supposed to be yours was actually William Clarkson’s.  Someone had tipped him off, and your cover-up quickly unraveled after that.”

   “Any leads on who knifed me? Was that a part of the cover up as well?”

   “We’re working on that. Nothing I can talk about yet,” said the agent, “There has been a new development, however, one which will completely overshadow your case.” The agent opened his briefcase and pulled out a photograph.  “Do you recognize this man?” The picture was of the man Sean had met on the bus into Reykjavík. It was of Professor Shallbetter, the swimming pool philosopher.

   “I met him in Iceland. He said he was a professor, he seemed to be a bit of an odd duck,” Sean said, thoroughly mystified by this revelation, “Please, tell me more.”

   “It seems that you weren’t the only person interested in the young Mr. Clarkson. The man is not a professor, his name is Harold Shallbetter, he is an ex-CIA agent who resigned under pressure a few years ago. He has been something of a whistle-blower since then, small stuff—nothing you would have heard of. Nothing until yesterday, that is. He released, via a network of internet and media outlets, a collection of documents about Senator Clarkson which he claimed to have received from William on the day before the accident.”

   “Where do I fit in with all this?” Sean didn’t have to act dumb. He was clueless.

   “We don’t know. Perhaps you could tell us.”

   “I don’t think I can—not that I won’t, but it’s just that, I’m… I’m out of my depth here. I’d like to get my life back again.  Do you have the things Billy took from me? Or are they in Seattle?”

   “They will be dealt with in due time. I’m afraid you will have to remain in protective custody for a while longer, but in nicer surroundings than this.”

   “How much longer?” said Sean.

   “It‘s hard to say, a couple of weeks, maybe a month. We’ve already been contacted by the House Judiciary committee, they want you to be available for hearings.”

   “Will I have any rights?”

   “Welcome back to the real world, Mr. Carroll. We want you on our side. The doctor said you can travel tomorrow. You will find that the safe house in Maryland will be more to your liking, Sean. You’ll have some rights, you will be able to use a phone and the internet. You just won’t be able to leave. It’s for your own safety.  You’ll be needing these clothes after all.”

   After they left, Sean looked at Billy’s clothes—dead man’s clothes. Like going to a classy thrift store. Sean didn’t feel like he was all the way back to being himself but it was nice to be called by his own name again.

   “Not the best situation,” he thought, “But it will have to do.”

   The next day he was transported to the safe house—a stately mansion that was situated in a wooded area just outside of D.C.



Dear Sean; 

I'm writing this because there are some things I just couldn't say during our Skype yesterday. I know it has been hard for you these last few weeks, I can't imagine anyone else putting up with all that nonsense and displaying the equanimity which you have displayed  throughout your ordeal. But as I tried to come to grips with you being away I can't shake the feeling that whatever it was we had together, before this all happened, has died. I realize that you are required to stay in the D.C. Area until the congressional hearings. I hope that you will be able to resume a 'normal' life, whatever that means. But not with me. I can't go on living like this. I'm just not strong enough. I'm also on thin ice at work and still paranoid about the FBI even though you told me they won't bother me anymore. I just don't want to be any part of your world anymore. I don't want to keep denying myself the opportunities of meeting new people and being able to engage in social activities. I miss going out with friends and being able to talk freely when I'm with themYesterday you said 'I can't talk about that' at least 10 times. I won't live that way anymore. 

It may have been the way Skype distorts the way things look and sound, but I think you're not the same person, Sean. The Sean I knew died in Iceland.

Let me know where I should send your things.

Molly


   Molly hit 'send'.  As the page refreshed, a new message appeared in her inbox. She opened it and read:

Hey Moll!

Good news! They've let me out, I don't know exactly why, but my lawyer says some of the W.T.O. cases were overturned due to entrapment—which is what I'd been saying all along. I know your life has changed in the past few years, but if you want to meet up again, under any conditions, I'll be in town Friday. You can reach me at Joey's. He still has the same number. Or email me. I'd love to see you. I really appreciate the way you always wrote, thanks for not giving up on me. It kept me going.

I will always love you,

Blue Eyes


   Molly hit 'reply'.




Fiction

By Professor Batty




Friday, February 22, 2013

Young Love


Jinniece and Andy, 1969

High school sweethearts, married less than a year after graduation, then he was off to Nam. An odd mix of temperaments (note the difference in footwear) but they did stick it out, more or less together, for fifteen years. It took me years to figure out how to make this "couple thing" work, but I eventually got the hang of it.

It worked out for the couple above as well, just not with each other.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 1 




Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Volcano


Fine & Mellow

Volcano

A film, written and directed by Rúnar Rúnarsson.

The Nordic lights film festival in Minneapolis continues to soldier on, down to one screen for five days in a multiplex.  I have written about Rúnar's short film Smáfuglar (Two Birds) before, this feature is equally somber, but even more effective. It is the story of Hannes, a bitter and depressed old man who, through a series of sad events, rediscovers his humanity. Hannes is portrayed by Theodor Júliússon, who seems to be the #1 actor of over-sixty-year-old men in the Icelandic cinema. He never disappoints, he gives this realistic drama the center it needs to succeed.

Highly recommended, with a caveat: Volcano is an unflinching look at one of the hardest aspects of growing older, you had better be in the mood.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 0 




Monday, February 18, 2013

Kids' Stuff



Digging through some old papers, I found an envelope with some negatives, shot nearly thirty years ago by my eldest son.  The images were of kids' stuff- toys mostly, some art projects and awards, with a few shots of his little brother thrown in as well. It is easy to forget the fascination that unfocused play holds for a child.

I had toy dinosaurs as well when I was a child, and I remember playing with them for years. This image gave me a glimpse of a world now long past, through my son's six year old eyes.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 1 




Thursday, February 14, 2013

My Funny Valentine



My heartfelt thanks to K. H.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 0 




Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Do Not Underestimate Pascal Pinon


Image: Fréttablaðið/Stefán

Twosomeness: an album by Pascal Pinon

   It's been nearly 4 years since a group of 14 year-old Icelandic girls recorded the tracks which would become their first album, Pascal Pinon. Their second album was finally released in the United States last Tuesday. Despite internet teasers and download opportunities, I'm just enough of a Luddite to wait until I actually get a CD so that I may give it, in its entirety, my undivided attention. Jófríður and Ásthildur Ákadóttir, now 18, recorded this album last year under the aegis of Alex Somers who has worked with numerous performers, most notably Jónsi of Sigur Rós. I was a bit apprehensive about this, I wondered if the ethereal nature of Pascal Pinon's music could survive the transition from the bedroom to the studio. I have often heard it said that it is the second album which really exposes the character of a musical group or performer.

   I need not have worried. Twosomeness is a great album. Ekki vanmeta, the opening track, is a knockout.  All the songs are strong. The lyrics, in Icelandic*, English and Swedish, are at times wistful and ambiguous, but never shallow or trite. The vocal and instrument arrangements are magnificent; inspiring and challenging by turns. Jófríður has always had a knack for writing arresting melodies, but this disc also shows Ásthildur's keyboard prowess, particularly on the track Bloom, where the sounds of her harmonium and bassoon are as otherworldly as that of any synthesizer. Kertið, which was also on their first album, I found a bit over the top- the new production actually diminished the raw emotional impact of the original. There were a couple of other times when I would have liked Alex to dial down the reverb a bit but for the most part he lets the music shine through. This CD is available from Amazon and other on-line sources, and yes, it is also available on vinyl, bless their retro hearts.

   Pascal Pinon is also noteworthy for its strong DYI ethic. They have created a very entertaining and informative, if somewhat jumbled,  web site where you can catch glimpses of the twins' other artistic interests, along with the occasional translation*. These sisters seem to have retained a healthy and refreshing attitude about the music business. Although they are still in school they have already performed in China, Japan and numerous places in Europe.

   Here are a few videos - some promotional, some from concerts. The last one features their younger sisters (WARNING: POSSIBLE CUTE OVERLOAD!):

In Japan,  Ekki vanmeta:


Playing Djöflasnaran on the Icelandic coast at 2 A.M.:


Sumarmál, from last year's Iceland Airwaves:


A recent interview:

Pascal Pinon for The Neon Hamburger from Elle A on Vimeo.

And, finally, Entertaining Japanese guests in their home with Somewhere:



   I've loved the music of this group since I first heard it at Iceland Airwaves in 2009. On the basis of this effort, I'm looking forward to their next album. I will post again about this group, once I've had a chance to let this CD sink in.

   Highest recommendation.

   *Ekki vanmeta - Do not underestimate

He put the cap on
and walked home
there is no lane
where he goes

all the energy that surrounds him
is a weapon in the dark
the bird leads him
back again

he lives closer than you think
don't underestimate the distance

rhythm takes him
and leads him home
He puts the cap on
and walks home
.

   ~Jófríður and Ásthildur Ákadóttir

By Professor Batty


Comments: 3 




Sunday, February 10, 2013

Playing Hooky



I took a day off from work Friday (it's becoming a habit) so The Weaver and I visited to The American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. We were greeted by an enormous tapestry, and had a bite to eat (Icelandic cod) in FIKA, the Scandinavian restaurant adjacent to the Turnblad mansion:



There were several related exhibits on display, mostly concerning The Sámi people of Northern Scandinavia, included was this exquisite purse with carved horn attachments:



Many of the rooms in the mansion were empty, a pleasant surprise in a way, every other time I've been here they were filled with displays:





The massive stained glass window Valdemar Atterdag Levying Contributions on Visby, depicts the conquering Danish king taking tributes from the citizens of Visby on the island of Gotland. Cheerful:



And of course, there are the eleven fantastic Swedish tile stoves. I particularly enjoyed the one which depicts Þor, with his hammer Mjölnir, vanquishing various trolls:



It seems as if it's becoming a habit, this mid-winter "escape to Scandinavia", more Nordic culture to follow in the next several days...

By Professor Batty


Comments: 5 




Friday, February 08, 2013

News


... Carroll, 33, worked at Applied Diffusion Research, a Seattle based data processing firm.  Coroner Anderson gave this statement:
"After comparing dental records from multiple sources, it was conclusively shown that the body was not that of Mr. Carroll. We are in the process of confirming the actual identity of the body, we have received information pointing to a person of interest, but are withholding the name pending additional confirmation."
   Mary Robinson shifted her gaze from her laptop to the large screen that was monitoring the network which was analyzing Billy Clarkson’s ‘evidence’ file. A column of names began to scroll down the screen. The most linked name was the Senator’s, followed by one she didn’t recognize: Roger Bannock Ramsen. A quick search revealed that he sat on the boards of several corporations which held defense contracts. He was wealthy from old tobacco money and was a ruthless behind-the-scenes D.C. insider who was known as having a knack for getting what he wanted.  72 years old, a widower, with a daughter, Nora, 40. Nora Ramsen Clarkson was the second wife of Senator Clarkson. Roger Ramsen had been linked romantically with a certain Sally O’Donnell, 47, the divorced wife of one of his business rivals.

   Mary let this new information sink in.  It was obvious that she would be dealing with some heavy hitters.  She initiated an extensive search on Sally O’Donnell.  While that was running she returned to the list:  Numerous Russian names, possibly arms dealers, some  Syrian and Iranian connections.  Afghan drug merchants, African warlords.  Billy had done his homework well. After a few minutes, the search on Sally came up: images from society galas (some with her on the arm of Roger Ramsen), news clippings, and even a Twitter feed.  Mary wondered if the Twitter account belonged some other Sally, so she clicked on it.  The profile image matched.  Mary scrolled back to late April.  Most of her tweets were banal—social affairs, books read, movies seen—but the one from May 1st commanded her attention:

SallyOD@SallyODonnell:Leaving Seattle tomorrow for a week with the Elves and Trolls in magical Iceland: http://www.iheartreykjavik.net 

   She had been on Sean’s flight!



   Sally O’Donnell came into Sean’s hospital room alone. She was holding a shopping bag in one hand and a cell phone in the other.

   “Get dressed, Billy. You’re leaving.”  Sally said, dumping clothes on the bed. She wasn’t smiling today.

   “I’d like to talk to the doctor about that,” said Sean. He wasn’t in pain, but he had only been stitched together for a couple of days and had been given stern warnings about moving about on his own. The wound was still seeping a bit and he was on a liquid diet. Sean wondered if Sally would be my nurse, or if she intended to leave him in the capable hands of Herbert.

   “We will see to your medical needs. This is not a secure facility.”

   Sean pressed the button for the nurse.



   Mary Robinson sat in her office, pondering her options.  If she did break Billy’s information, the chances of it being tied to Applied Diffusion Research were pretty good.  If she didn’t release it, she shuddered to think of what might happen to Sean. Or to Molly.  The first scenario it would mean the end of ADR and put her and her twenty employees out of work.  The second scenario would mean the ruin of two innocent lives. Mrs. R had delayed taking any action for nearly a full twenty-four hours. Her desk phone rang. The caller ID indicated it was from in-house.  She picked up.



   Molly had just returned to her room—a storeroom full of books. It also had a cot, a sink, and a toilet. It was located above her friend Alice’s bookstore. Molly had used it before. She had just picked up a takeout order from a nearby Chinese take-out. She sat down on the cot, next to a table made from a double stack of old encyclopedias and a piece of plywood. She arranged food, first transferring it from the paper boxes it came to porcelain dishes. “I may be hiding out,” Molly thought, “But that doesn’t mean I can’t be civilized.” She set her iPad next to the food and then, when her ritual was complete, touched the local news app.  Her eyes opened wide when the top story came up.



   Sean’s call for the nurse was answered by three F.B.I. agents, one was the agent who had tried to interrogate him when he had been in intensive care. The other two were younger and unfamiliar.

   “Going somewhere?”  said one of the younger agents as he looked at the clothes which had been laid out on the bed.

   “Talk to Ms. O'Donnell here—I’m as weak as a kitten.”

   “Who are you, Ma’am, and what are you doing here?” asked the other young agent.

   “I-I-I’m a friend of the family, I was just bringing Billy some clothes,” Sally said, terrified.

   “She wanted me to leave with her, against doctor’s orders,” said Sean.  He wasn’t going to play the Billy game anymore.

   “Why don’t you come with me, Ms. O’Donnell?” said one of the younger agents, as he took her hand and escorted her out of the room.

   One of the remaining agents sat down in the corner.  The older one stood beside the bed.

   “We’re going to have a little talk, Mr. Carroll,” he said.



Fiction


By Professor Batty




Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Fertility Mug


Ceramist: Gary Erickson

Handheld.

Utilitarian.

Humble.

But not necessarily bereft of whimsy.

Life irrepressible.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 0 




Monday, February 04, 2013

Doin' My Bit in the War on Crime



   In 1973 United States President Richard Nixon declared a "War on Crime", and actually got legislation passed that gave billions of dollars to local law enforcement agencies. My local police department used the money to expand its property and evidence division, which had been struggling for years. I applied for one of the positions and got it. It didn't take me too long to figure out that the problem was not one of staffing, but of organization. Still, it was a job, a job which paid nearly double of what I had been making. There were twelve of us new hires, eight stock clerks and four clerk/typists. Most of us were under thirty, single and so bored by our jobs that we quickly formed relationships of various sorts with each other. The one shared constant of the experience was the "canteen", a small cabinet where coffee cups—our ceramic proxies—were stored.

   Things were shaky. Within two years most of us had been investigated, quit, been transferred or promoted.

   This is the only image I have of those years. I don't even remember the names of the women in the picture.

   What I do remember is that behind that door in the picture above were hundreds of guns.


By Professor Batty


Comments: 0 




Friday, February 01, 2013

Data Revolution




   “Molly, it’s me, Sean. Are you there?”

   “Yes.” Sean could hear her sobbing on the other end of the line.

   “Listen. I don’t have much time to talk. I’ve been forced into acting as if I was Billy Clarkson, it’s a long story, but I need you contact Mrs. Robinson. Do you still have the letter I left you?”

   “I’ve already read it,” said Molly,  “She’s right here, just a sec... ”

   “Sean, Robinson here. Speak.”

   “They’re trying to squeeze me, to put me away so no one can ask any questions. Find out who’s behind it—did you get the SD card?”

   “I’ve got it.”

   “The files should tell you everything you need to know. Do a massive analysis of them, there’s a common thread there and I think it involves a lot more than the Senator’s reelection campaign.  Tag all proper nouns, and tabulate all names associated with them. I’m betting that the top three or four names will hold the key. I’m in a hospital in Virginia. They’re going to move me somewhere else tomorrow. Try to get that information out before I disappear. Make it seem as if it is coming from a hacker or Wikileaks, but just get it out.”

   “Will do. Billy’s body is in the Seattle morgue, ID’d as yours, we’re working on getting dental records to end that cover-up as well.”

   “Great, let me talk to Molly again.”

   “Sean, are you all right?”

   “I’m O.K., it wasn’t a real bad wound, but I’m pretty much tied to a bed for a couple of days. I’m being held against my will. They told me they’d put you in prison if I didn’t cooperate. Can you hide out somewhere?”

   “I think so.”

   “Then do it.  I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but the people are ruthless. Uh oh, I hear people coming, I’ve got to hang up, I love you... ”

   Sean had heard a commotion in the hall so he hung up and feigned sleep. He had been put in a private room but evidently forgot to remove the phone. The door opened and Senator Clarkson came in with some aides, a cameraman, and a reporter.

   “Billy, how are you doing?” the Senator said, moving close to Sean, making sure that the camera and video operators had a good view.

   “I’m hanging in there, Dad. I could be worse.”

   “That’s the spirit, my boy. You’ll be up and around in no time.”

   “When can I leave?” Sean thought it would be a good idea to put the Senator on the defensive.

   “Well, that’s up to the doctor, but until we get the incident at the reception figured out we’ll be keeping you out of harms way.”

   “If there’s anything I can do for your campaign—a press conference or something, let me know, I could do it from the hospital.” said Sean, laying it on thick.

   A reporter asked, “Any idea who did it?” shoving a microphone in Sean’s face.

   “No, whoever did it threw a jacket over my head before I was attacked.”

   Sean saw one of the Senator’s aides whispering in the Senator’s ear.

   “That’s enough for now, gentlemen, Billy is still weak, and we wouldn’t want to compromise the investigation.”

   “Just one more photo with Billy, sir.”

   The Senator moved closer to Sean’s head, so close that Sean was able to smell the Senator’s hair gel.

   “This is my son, with whom I am well pleased.”

   “What a sanctimonious prick,” though Sean.

   When the group left one of the Senator’s aides took the room phone with him.



   “He had to hang up,” Molly said.

   “What did he tell you? Tell me exactly,” Mary said.  Her voice had a steely edge.

   “He said that he’d been forced into being Billy Clarkson. He the was told that I’d be put in prison if I didn’t cooperate. He wanted to know if I could hide out somewhere.”

   “Do you have a place you can go—don’t tell me where—just say yes or no.”

   “Yes.”

   “Good. We’ll need to keep in touch. You can use our dropbox.”

   “Is it secure?”

   “Very. Here’s how it works. Here’s the basic portal address. You need to add a number where the six x’s are. The number changes every day. The first two digits are the day of the month added to the ID number I’ll give you. The next two digits are the day of the month added to itself. The last two numbers are are the first four added together. The date changes at 0000 hours GMT. Your ID number is 17. You got that?”

   “I think so. Today is the 9th. Adding it to my ID will give me 26, the next two are 18 so the final two numbers will be 44.”

   “Perfect. Memorize it. Check in at least once a day, leave a message if you have any information. I’ll keep you posted.”

   “We’ll get Sean back, won’t we?”

   “Sure, Molly. We’ve got to. Nobody fucks with my best employee and gets away with it. You should leave now—we really shouldn’t be seen together until this is all over. I’ll stay here and finish my drink.”

   Molly drove home, packed a backpack and called in sick to work. She left her mother a note saying she would be out of town with some friends for the weekend. She then walked to the bus stop, boarded, and rode for a mile until she reached a transfer point. She then took a bus for the Fremont district.  When she got off there, she found herself in front of a statue of Lenin. Molly thought it ironic that she had to go underground again; in the W.T.O. protests in 1999 it was for her politics. This time, it was for somebody else’s. She walked over to the small bookstore that was across the street. Molly went in and was met by the proprietor, a middle-aged woman who was wearing a gypsy dress.

   “Hello Alice, it’s me again,” said Molly, “With the same old story. Do you still have that room? I need to disappear for a few days.”

   “Yeah, you can crash there,” said Alice,  “The same terms: no parties, no boyfriends.”

   “Not to worry. I’ll be quiet as a mouse. You didn’t see me.”

   “Still waiting for the Interurban, huh Molly? Man trouble, I’ll bet.  When you gonna settle down, Mol? You know that you still have a chance to make it with me.”

   “Aw, thanks, Alice,” said Molly,  “But I’m too old to switch sides. But you’d be number one on my list if I ever did.”

   “Here’s the key, and the store’s WiFi password. The back entrance usually has a dumpster in front of it, but hey! You’re in no position to be choosy.”

   “You’re a pal, Al.”



   Back at Applied Diffusion Research, Mary Robinson waited until everyone had gone home before she started processing the files which Sean had sent her.  She knew it would take several hours. Mary had never gone so big, with so many names and keywords.

   “This had better work... ” she said as she hit the ENTER key.  In dozens of supercomputers, the data began its mad dance.

   Mary opened her desk drawer and took out a bottle of single malt and a glass.






Fiction

By Professor Batty


Comments: 4