Monday, June 29, 2015

Two Creatures Great and Small



I’ve been experimenting with my newest toy, a Pentax Q-S1 mirrorless camera. Petite (the body is the size of a deck of cards) yet surprisingly powerful, it has the ability to use almost any lens ever made—and with sensor-based shake reduction! The above shot was made handheld with a converted enlarging lens (Apo-Rodagon-N 90mm f4) at a distance of about three feet. The pic below is of the catbird who lives in our backyard. We have some kind of inter-species relationship going on (it's complicated.) Same set-up, about six feet away:

By Professor Batty


Comments: 1 




Friday, June 26, 2015

Power Play



   The next day found Sean sitting in a room full of lawyers, negotiating paternity and child support issues for his son, Vilhjálmur. Meanwhile, Mary was in an SUV, being driven to Snæfellsnes by Þora’s uncle Hilmar.

   “The legendary center of cosmic energy,” said Mary, as the dormant, ice-capped  volcano came into view. “I can feel something already.”

  “Já, it is one of the seven portals,” said Hilmar, “We’ll be there soon enough, are you up to it? Many disbelievers and scoffers have been humbled in its presence. Is it all right with your man that you should be out here?”

   “Sean understands,” Mary said. “He is doing what needs to be done, as I am also doing what needs to be done. Tell me about your organization, Hilmar.”

   “We are a group of like-minded souls, people who share a respect for the old ways. There are several hundred of us in Iceland. There has been an interest shown by numerous groups outside of Iceland as well. We even have an ‘app’ now.”

   “What kinds of things do you have on your app?” asked Mary.

   “Affirmations, essays on the old religion,  a way to keep in touch without having to use the Facebook. We prefer to keep control of the app to ourselves. How about you? Do you have an internet presence?”

   “Outside of my naked pictures, no. Did you see them?” Hilmar shook his head and then Mary said: “Could you use some spells, in your app? Real spells that have power?”

   “Do you think that would be wise? There is no end to the amount of mischief that people manage to get themselves into.”

   “That is the chance we must take. I have been given some powers, but for the change to happen there needs to be many more of us—one solitary person is only a shot away from oblivion.”

   “Are there forces that would do that to you?”

   “Yes, and they are highly organized. That was what Billy was on the verge of uncovering when he died. They will stop short of nothing to retain their power,” Mary paused, “One of the reasons we’re here in Iceland is to escape from their attacks. They tried to kill Sean’s aunt. They missed that time but there have been others who I could not save.”

   As the glacier-topped peak grew closer, and Hilmar turned onto the road which led up to the peak.

   “This will take us about a third of the way,” said Hilmar, “We’ll need to walk the rest.”

   “I’m so charged I think I could fly the rest of the way,” Mary said, with a fiercely intent look upon her face, “If I seem to lose consciousness, just let me be. I may be ‘out’ for a while.”

   Hilmar parked the car at the end of the road and they stepped out into the cold air. The sky was cloudy, but not threatening. Mary stepped away from the vehicle and stood still.

   “Everything OK?” asked Hilmar.

   “It’s… it’s… fantastic. Lead on.”

   The couple trudged up, Hilmar respecting Mary’s ‘condition’ by refraining from any unnecessary conversation. Only when they reached the glacier did Hilmar speak, and then to point out hazards. After a few minutes Mary spoke:

   “It’s very close.” she said as she moved back and forth on the ice. Hilmar kept a close eye on her movements. They were in a relatively flat area, free of crevasses, but Hilmar knew there was always the possibility of a mishap.

   “Here,” Mary said, as she stood still, her arms crossed over her chest.

   Hilmar watched as she closed her eyes and began to breathe deeply.

   “The power! The power!” Mary suddenly shouted. Hilmar became concerned when Mary began to shake. He considered trying to touch her but he remembered what she had told him about interfering. As he watched, it seemed as if a mist was forming around her.

   And then she was gone.

   “Mary!” Hilmar cried. “Mary!”




Fiction

By Professor Batty




Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Reykjavík Nights



An Inspector Erlendur Mystery
By Arnaldur Indriðason
Minotaur Books, US edition 2015

   Hooray! Erlendur is back, this time in sort of a prequel to the other books in the series. Set in 1976, Erlendur is a young traffic officer who works the night shift in Reykjavík. To the usual mix of accidents, drunks and domestics is added the the case of two missing women and the apparent death by drowning of an alcoholic who Erlendur had gotten to know. As is usually the case in this series, apparently unrelated events have hidden connections. Erlendur’s stubbornness leads him through the city in a quest to find the answers to his questions, questions the police had given up on.

   If you are familiar with Reykjavík be sure to have a map of the city handy when reading, Indriðason provides street names to all the locations. The book features the city’s new building projects, giving a sense of the era between its World War II-era past and its modern incarnation. I found it fascinating, those readers without a special interest in the city may find it less so. Indriðason is exploring some aspects of his own coming-of-age in this book, with numerous seventies cultural references.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 4 




Monday, June 22, 2015

The Art of Asking

I first became aware of Amanda Fucking Palmer a few years ago; a local photographer needed several negatives scanned, printed and mounted on foam core for a Kickstarter party to be held in Berlin. I found out that she was married to Neil Gaiman, and that she had a successful punk/cabaret act, The Dresden Dolls. Her TED talk has been seen by millions. The book could be considered a ‘self-help’ title, but it is really a meditation on unconditional love. Amanda started her public performance career as a ‘living statue’; a seven-foot tall bride in whiteface wearing a Bettie Page wig and holding a bouquet. When people would put money in the donation hat she would break pose and give them eye contact and a flower. This morphed into a musical/cabaret act, which ultimately raised over a million dollars in a Kickstarter for her groups new album. Of course she was almost immediately vilified by the media, but as the book relates, she managed to overcome it. Whether you enjoy her music and performance art or not, it is hard not to be inspired by someone who gives and gives and who has found an audience capable of returning the gift.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 1 




Friday, June 19, 2015

Family Reunion



   Sean could barely keep from gasping when he first saw Vilhjálmur Stefán emerging from his room. Mary and Sean were in the living room of Þora’s basement flat. Sean recognized features in the boy that were very similar to pictures of himself at that age. The toddler was shy at first but lost his reserve when he looked at Mary. He walked right up to her and lifted his hands in the universal sign for ‘up’. Mary obliged and when he was in her lap they stared at each other for several seconds. Þora, who until this point had been very uncomfortable, involuntarily smiled.

   “Someone’s found a friend.” said Þora.

   ”Mama. Mary, mama, Mary” said Vilhjálmur, pointing to Mary.

   “Now how did you know her name, litl one?” said Þora.

   “We are connected souls,” said Mary, “He can read my mind.”

   The door bell rang and Þora answered it. It was Þora’s uncle, Hilmar, who had been aware of the child’s powers and was keen on meeting Sean and Mary.

   “You must be Sean—” said Hilmar, “—and you are Mary, of course. I am Hilmar, Þora’s uncle.”

   Hilmar removed his jacket. he was wearing a t-shirt which was adorned with the logo of an old on-line game.

   “If you tell me the name of your avatar,” said Mary, pointing to his shirt, “I’ll tell you mine.”

   Hilmar was taken aback by this and gave her a sheepish grin.

   “So you are familiar with The Other Realms?” he said, “I was known as Biggi Baddi, and you are…?”

   “Ah, Biggi, the grand master! I was Alleystar,” said Mary, as she set Vilhjálmur down on the floor, “The Other Realms was my creation.”

   “You are a legend,” Hilmar said, “What happened? Why did you disappear? The Other Realms turned to shit after you left.”

   “I received an offer I couldn’t refuse,” said Mary, “In real life. How about you? What are you up to?”

   “I’ve started up a branch of The Old Religion: Paganism. The time is right, the need is there. The Old Religion was suppressed by bloodshed. The New Order will come about with Love.”

   “You do understand that this child is part of this?” said Mary, “It is no accident that Sean and Þora met,” Mary could sense that Hilmar had some awareness of the New Order, but was not on the same level as her, or, for that matter, Vilhjálmur, “Will you excuse us? Hilmar and I need to be alone for a few minutes. Hilmar, come, we can talk in the kitchen.” They left the room, leaving Þora and Sean with Vilhjálmur.



     It was 3 A. M. in Seattle. Jo had not been sleeping well since the murder of Madame Tara earlier in the week. She was slated to start her new job as a barista that day. Although she had to get up early, she didn’t want to get up quite that early. She was also worried that her ex in Spokane may have found out where she had gone.  He had told her that he would kill her if she left and Jo had taken him at his word. As she was lying in bed, wide awake in the dark, she heard the unmistakable sound of the backdoor lock being tinkered with. With her roommate out of town and Madame Tara dead, there should be no one else using that door. Jo felt under her pillow for the .38 caliber revolver which she had owned ever since her prior relationship went bad. She heard the lock click open and, holding her breath, could discern the sound of footsteps—faint, as if made with soft soled shoes—and she drew back the hammer on the gun, muffling the sound of its cocking with her pillow. The sound of the footsteps came nearer. When they reached the carpet in the hall, Jo could no longer hear them. The outline of her open bedroom door framed the dark hallway that was beyond.

   Suddenly, a silhouette of a man filled the doorway—a figure with a strangely shaped head. The head turned toward her and then, with a rush, he was in her bed: on top of her, placing his hands over her mouth. She felt a plastic rim pressing against her teeth, and a bitter taste entered her mouth. Jo emptied the revolver into the man’s midsection. The man lurched and with a surprising burst of strength, Jo rolled the man to the floor and leapt out of the bed. Running out of the room, she dashed into the bathroom and locked the door. There was a burning sensation in her mouth and she spit into the sink. She rinsed her mouth with mouthwash. Only then did she take a breath. She could hear the man softly moaning in the other room, followed by a louder groan.  Then it was quiet. She waited for several minutes before she got nerve enough to open the bathroom door. Quietly going into the kitchen, Jo got the biggest knife she could find. Returning to the bedroom, she turned on the light and saw the man lying on his back on the floor, apparently dead, lying in a pool of blood. He had a night-vision apparatus on his head, and there was what looked like an asthma inhaler in his hand.

   It was not her ex.



   Mary had Hilmar sit across from her at the kitchen table. She began to probe his mind, gently at first, but when she realized that he was receptive, she began to communicate with him with by thought.

   “So, you possess the awareness,” she began, “You realize that we are part of an enlightenment—you, me, Sean, the child. There are others, Our time is coming.”

   “Yes, is it really true, are you the chosen one?” thought Hilmar.

   “I am the vessel. The next generation will transform the world,” Mary thought, “We must prepare the way for the Goddess reincarnate, as well as her consort.

   “And how shall we know her, and where shall we find him?” thought Hilmar.

   “The consort is in the next room, with his father and mother,” thought Mary. “The Goddess incarnate is here, within me.





Fiction

By Professor Batty




Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Rivertown Ramble

Summer in the city.



While the regulars are fishing down at the dam, skaterdaters text and flirt:



The kids and the geese share the shoreline:



The neighbor’s cat poses in front of his domain:



And as the sun sets, a couple walks hand in hand:

By Professor Batty


Comments: 2 




Monday, June 15, 2015

Found Lyrics




Hailey’s Song 4 the Piano

Tell Nana the dog got kidnapt
Come on come on
Do it with me
Come on come on
Let’s go do it
Let’s go let’s go
Tell Nana the dog got kidnapt
Come on come on.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 3 




Friday, June 12, 2015

Vesturbæjarlaug



   Mary and Sean paid the admission and went to their respective dressing rooms.

   “Don't forget to shower naked,” thought Sean, “The attendants are sticklers on this.”

   “Everybody’s peeking at me,” thought Mary, “Not because I’m naked, though.”

   “It’s your beautiful skin,” thought Sean.

   “Thanks,” thought Mary, “Flattery is your only character flaw.”

   “Just thinking the obvious,” Sean thought.

   “Isn’t it a pity these rings don’t have video?” thought Mary.

   “I know what a naked woman looks like,” thought Sean, as he stepped into the shower room where two grossly overweight Icelandic men were shampooing, “And you wouldn’t want to be seeing what I am right now.

   Mary and Sean finished showering, put their suits on, and entered the pool area. The pool was not crowded, two women were doing laps, and small clusters of people were sitting in the various ‘hot-pots’ on the far side of the kiddy pool. Sean noticed that Mary’s wet one-piece swimsuit clearly showed her ‘baby-bump.’ Mary saw the scar on Sean’s abdomen seemed more livid than usual—perhaps it was from the hot water in the shower.

   “Race you,” thought Mary, “Four laps.

   “You’re on,” thought Sean.

   Mary had always been a strong swimmer, and although Sean had been swimming as part of his therapy, his core strength was still lacking. Two full years for recovery, the doctors had told him. It was already over two years, but Sean still felt a weakness in his torso where he had been stabbed.  It was no contest—Mary finished a half lap ahead and waited for Sean at the end of the pool.

   “Are you ready for a soak?” thought Sean.

   “Lead on, slowpoke,” thought Mary.

   “That was the nickname my first girlfriend had for me,” Sean said aloud.

   Mary glowered at Sean and said:

   “It suits you.”

   There were four pots, plus a much larger shallow pool. They were graduated in temperature, the first pot was cold water. Sean led Mary to the second pot, which she found to be a little cool.

   “Let’s go to the next one,” she thought, “I’m still a little stiff from the flight.

   The third pot was considerably warmer, and there was a lively conversation going on between two older men. They nodded as Mary and Sean entered, then continued their conversation in Icelandic. After a time, the men evidently exhausted their topic. One of them eyed Mary warily and then turned to Sean and said “Goðan daginn.”

   “Goðan daginn” to you,” said Sean.

   “You are Americans?” said the Icelandic man.

   “Yes, my name is Sean, and this is my wife, Mary,” said Sean.

   “Goðan daginn,” said Mary, who was intrigued by the man’s look of confusion. She turned on the charm and sweetly said: “We just arrived and thought a nice soak would do us good, help to get rid of jet-lag.”

   Mary’s voice and her use of Icelandic charmed the man. He brightened considerably and began to speak:

   “My name is Einar, I was a trawler captain for many years.”

   Sean looked at the man closely. It was the same captain who Sean had spoken with  almost three years ago.

   “I believe we’ve met,” said Sean, “You are the captain who studied the Japanese fishing methods and then made improvements in your fishing techniques. What a coincidence.”

   The man looked at Sean closely. “There are few coincidences in Iceland. Já, já, I am the man. You were in the papers, weren’t you? Your brother died in a car crash?”

   “Your memory is exceptional,” said Sean, “Or is it the water’s memory?”

   “Já.” the man answered with a smile. “What brings you back here?”

   Sean didn’t answer for a long time.

   “Business. Family business.”

   The trawler captain looked at Sean, then at Mary.

   “Some babies grow up in peculiar ways.” he said.



Fiction

By Professor Batty




Monday, June 08, 2015

Thinking About Iceland



Now it begins.

Again.

The long countdown to my return to Iceland. My infatuation for ‘The Rock’ had faded in recent months, but has recently been rekindled, not in the least part by the efforts of the triumvirate of the ‘three sisters’ of Icelandic Internet Information: Alda, Auður and Maria.

Alda is well on her way to becoming the printed authority on Icelandic Culture. Her ever-expanding series of books, both fact and fiction, is threatening to overwhelm all other Icelanders who write for foreign readers. Although she now usually uses Facebook to communicate, her original blog is still active, with longer posts about once a week.

Maria’s Iceland Eyes is still going as well. More personal than Alda’s blog, it features her ruminations on what it means to live in Iceland. Low-key yet heartfelt, it is the internet equivalent of having coffee with an old friend.
 
Finally, read Auður’s heartfelt post about her relationship with her blog, her family, dealing with tourists and, of course, Iceland. She is a national treasure.

Update: Expatriate Larissa Kyser has emerged from her immersion in Icelandic linguistic studies to resume posting on the Eth & Thorn blog again. Her current post contains links to PRI podcasts on the Icelandic language. In two parts, they constitute an excellent overview of the the tradition and future of Icelandic.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 2 




Friday, June 05, 2015

Flybus



   The sun had not yet risen by the time Mary and Sean left the Keflavík terminal building. Low scudding clouds, driven by a brisk wind, were broken by patches of clear sky. Dozens of newly arrived passengers scurried to the buses which were waiting to take them to the capital city. It was cold, but not freezing.

   “Looks like it’s going to be a beautiful day!” said Sean. “Smell that fresh air!”

   “Is it always this windy?” said Mary, somewhat dubiously.

   “It can get worse,” said Sean, just before a gust of wind blew his hat off.

   Mary laughed: “Instant Karma. Com’on, the bus is waiting.”

   The trip into Reykjavík triggered emotions in Sean. He experienced a sense of pleasant anticipation when he thought about meeting his son. He was glad that the same anxiety he had felt when he had last been here—when he was searching for Billy—had not reappeared. Mary’s senses were all on high alert. The rugged landscape, with its otherworldly aspect, made quite an impression on her, but what really intrigued her was the flood of new ‘internal information’ she was receiving.

  “This place is alive with… with… spirits,” she said, “Or whatever they are.”

   “The hidden folk,” Sean said, smiling.

   “We’ll see about that,” said Mary, “I’m not the person who should be saying this, but seeing is believing.”

   As they neared Reykjavík the traffic got heavier, until they found themselves in the Icelandic equivalent of a traffic jam.

   “Almost like I-5 in Seattle,” said Mary, “What time is our check in?”

   “Officially, three P.M. but the unit wasn’t occupied last night so we can check-in at any time. We were lucky to get this place on such short notice,” Sean said, “It’s right in the center of town.”

    The place they would be staying in was built in the style of a faux ‘castle.’ Sean remembered seeing it on his last trip and thought that it would be far enough from the last place he stayed—both geographically and aesthetically—to avoid triggering any bad associations with Billy. It was tucked away behind Fríkirkjan, the corrugated iron church which faced the pond.

   “We’re going to meet with your son and his mother tomorrow, right?” asked Mary.

   “Tomorrow, 10 A.M.,” said Sean, “Vilhjálmur Stefán and his mother Þora. Are you comfortable with the idea of coming along?”

   “I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Mary said,  “If what Emily said was right, Vilhjálmur is already in possession of some of his ‘powers’, although I wonder what control a toddler would have over them. Þora must have her hands full.”

   “She hinted at that in her email,” Sean said, “I hope we can be some help to her.”

   When they got to the BSÍ bus terminal in Reykjavík they had to transfer to a smaller bus for the short trip to the apartment. When they arrived they were buzzed into a foyer where they found their keys waiting. The studio that Sean had rented was equipped with a kitchen and the refrigerator in it was stocked with food for breakfast. Although she was wary of the cod liver pâté, Mary approved of the skyr. After they had eaten, Sean suggested a trip to the neighborhood pool to alleviate their jet-lag symptoms, as well as getting a chance to stretch their legs.

   “It’s a good place to meet the locals,” said Sean, “I’d like to get your impressions of them, there’s usually quite a mix in the hot-pots. Of course, you might have some interesting conversations of your own in the women’s shower.”

   “I’ve always thought that he best way to air your differences is to get naked,” said Mary, “Although my complexion might be a complication.”

   “There aren’t a lot of black people in Iceland, but there are some. More now. From what I know, most Icelanders are pretty tolerant. There could always be a bad egg, I suppose. The pool is near the University district, I would imagine that the mix of people there is more international.”

   The walk to the pool was pleasant. The wind had relented and the low angle of the sun over the city gave things a golden glow. The cemetery on the hill above the pond was especially dramatic.

   “Let’s walk through there,” said Mary, “I want to get away from the cars.”

   Sean thought about the last time he was here, with Billy, on the day he died. He shook off the reverie and turned his attention to Mary, who was visibly enthralled by everything around her. Once inside the cemetery’s walls, the traffic noise from the busy Hringbraut highway was greatly diminished. Birds were flying among the trees and there was even a rough-looking orange tomcat prowling the paths between the family plots.

   “Are you picking up any interesting ‘vibes’?” asked Sean.

   “Nothing that stands out,” said Mary, “Although there is some sort of a current, almost like a complex musical chord. It underlies everything here, I would like to come back here and meditate on it, to see how far into it I could go. It’s fantastic.”

   “How about that cat?” quipped Sean.

   “That cat only speaks Icelandic,” said Mary, deadpanning. She paused for a moment and then said: “You were here with Billy, weren’t you?”

   “Yes, this was one of the places we were. Here, over there, at Perlan, and my apartment, which was just up the street, a little ways from here,” said Sean, “He was well known around town, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone still recognized me as him, although I would think that everybody knows the story by now.”

   When they got to the pool,  Mary held Sean back as he was about to enter the bath house.

   “Put your ring on,” she said, and they went in.




Fiction

By Professor Batty




Monday, June 01, 2015

Summer Linkage


Detail of "Giant Killer Chicken" by Shoshanah Mahron

Being a collection of my favorite things…

Dr. B’s Bizarre History Blog is a ‘link-dump’ site, definitely on the strange side—not the usual fare for this kind of endeavor. Hours of time-wasters… there are five years of daily list links, as well as other special features.

Erik Kwakkel’s tumblr contains a different sort of bizarre history. Erik is a medievalist, his site has fabulous pictures of medieval books and related items. I lived with a medievalist when I was younger, she would love this site.

Aparna Nacherla is a stand-up comedian whose Twitter account is consistently amusing.

The Daily Dot is a big commercial site, its content overlaps with some of the ‘pop’ sites, but it does have a fair amount of unique features.

Shoshanah Marohn has long been a link here, her stream-of-consciousness ramblings have entertained and educated me for many years. Her books occupy a prominent place on my bookshelves. She is also a subversive painter, turning the art world on its collective head, plowing ahead where no MFA dares to follow. From time to time she allows the outside world to purchase one of these masterpieces (disclosure: I have one on the wall of Flippist World Headquarters). This week she has two up for auction! I’ve seen one of them in person and it would be a magnificent addition to any decor, as well as an affirmation of your good taste. The other painting is even more ‘high concept’. Be sure to read the description.

UPDATE: You missed your chance for the Giant Killer Chicken painting. It's mine, all mine, bwahahaha!

By Professor Batty


Comments: 5