Monday, February 29, 2016

Mondays in Iceland - #51


This picture is from the very first day I was in Iceland, March of 2000.

Located on a hill (Öskjuhlíð) overlooking Reykjavík, this amalgamation of water tanks, public space, museum, restaurants and an observation deck is one of the first things in Reykjavík a newbie to Iceland finds amazing (TIP: sit on the Driver's side of the Flybus when going into town.) It's a pretty neat place with a fancy rotating restaurant on the top. That restaurant is quite expensive (although not as pricey as Dill) but there are lower-cost dining options in the complex as well. As an attraction, Perlan (with the surrounding area) is well worth a look if you have a couple of open hours. I went to it again in 2004 and that was enough for me. It remains an attractive building, the view from the University district is quite photogenic, especially with a telephoto:

October, 2015

In 2000 Iceland was an odd place to go for a winter vacation; The Weaver and I saw few other tourists and had most of the museums and other attractions to ourselves. That year Iceland received about 500,000 tourists, most in the summer months. This year the number is expected to be triple that amount and you will run into swarms of tourists everywhere, anytime of year.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Hula Girls Redux

Found image: "Show at Sands Hawaii", March 1959

Taken before Hawaii was a state, the Kodachrome above gives a glimpse of its tourist trade nearly 55 years ago. It may be that the camera just captured an off moment but it doesn't appear that anyone in the picture is having much fun.

Hawaii was an impossibly exotic locale when I was a youngster.  In the process of becoming a state, there were numerous articles and television programs featuring the island 'paradise.' One of the promotional items was the comic book Dennis in Hawaii, I had a copy. It featured Dennis the Menace on a trip with his mother and father to all of the major Hawaiian Islands; a trip that would have cost many thousands of dollars in 1959—about equivalent  to the cost of the house I was living in.  It seemed strange to see Dennis, who was a 'normal' kid in his daily newspaper strip (of about the same socio-economic class as me), suddenly surrounded by luxury. I knew then that my family wasn't rich. Years later, I did make it to Oahu. While not on the scale of Dennis' grand tour, Hawaii had many intriguing things to offer, some strangely attractive. Overall, modern Hawaii could never be nearly as exotic as the 1959 Hawaii my 9-year-old mind had imagined from Dennis' adventures.

I also saw hula dancers when I was there—it was an awkward experience:

I did see another hula dancer, a member of a combo that was performing in the patio lounge at one of the big oceanfront hotels. She was a fine singer, but on a few numbers she put down the mic and just danced. Her hula dancing was exquisite.

Any folk art loses its delicacy when it is translated into a commercial enterprise. Hula dancing, with its intertwined aspects of physicality, sexuality, and spirituality, may be the most fragile of all the arts.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Heading for the Pourhouse

Last fall I had the privilege to attend a “Guitar Summit”, a benefit for Musicares, a Grammy-sponsored organization set up to help out musicians in need of medical assistance. It was held in a newer club in downtown Minneapolis: The Pourhouse. A two-story space carved out of the venerable Lumber Exchange Building,
a Minneapolis landmark since 1885. The performers were venerable as well—an elite collection of Minnesota's finest rock and blues guitarist of the sixties and seventies.

There were some youngsters represented as well, playing "da blooz" fast and furiously:

That‘s Bobby Z, Prince’s Purple Rain drummer, on the skins.

It is usually a bittersweet affair to see this kind of show—the lack of rehearsal and, in a few cases, the loss of “chops” makes for an uneven night of music. The Barber and Peterson dynasties were featured as well. Fine musicians—but not guitarists—turning a guitar summit into a sideways version of Last Waltz, complete with a version of Dylan‘s Forever Young as an encore.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Mondays in Iceland - #50

I heart Reykjavík tour group, Reykjavík, October 9, 2015

Tough Choices

Maria at Iceland Eyes has been posting a series of short essays on the state of Iceland, past and present, dealing with dealing with the Icelandic economy and its relationship to tourism. The underlying question is one which has plagued Iceland for over a thousand years: self governance. The posts aren’t terribly long (although they are much longer than a tweet!) but if you want to read only one to get the gist of them I suggest reading  There's a Fine Line Between Opportunity and Opportunism, Isn't There?

My last couple of visits to Reykjavík have been somewhat bittersweet: seeing myself in the role of an obnoxious camera-toting tourist trying to fit in where I don’t really belong. The continuing property development in the city has been, with a few exceptions, disheartening as well. But whenever I’m there I always have some great moments: moments when the “I” melts into the background and the “not I” is able to experience life in a new way. That said, I may have had enough of life on the rock, it’s getting harder to imagine going back again. I will really miss the theatre and the pool, however, and the people I have met there have been great.

From time to time, on my other blog, Laxness in Translation, I get inquiries about Icelandic literature and culture. Recently, writer Dan Kois (Slate and New York Times) wrote me asking about any connections that Halldór Laxness might have to the Icelandic swimming culture (there weren’t any) so I gave him some suggestions of people to contact. I mentioned I Heart Reykjavík, telling him that Auður would probably be too busy to help him but her blog had a lot about swimming. A few days later, Auður tweeted:
“I get quite a lot of media requests every month. They all want the non-touristy Iceland to send more tourists there... ”
So maybe I really am part of the problem!

UPDATE: The Dan Kois article is up at the New York Times and it is great.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 4 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Moving On?

Received this ominous message on my Picasa (photo-hosting service) dashboard last Friday:

Moving on from Picasa

Friday, February 12, 2016 10:00 AM

Since the launch of Google Photos, we’ve had a lot of questions around what this means for the future of Picasa. After much thought and consideration, we’ve decided to retire Picasa over the coming months in order to focus entirely on a single photo service in Google Photos. We believe we can create a much better experience by focusing on one service that provides more functionality and works across mobile and desktop, rather than divide our efforts across two different products.

We know for many of you, a great deal of care has gone into managing your photos and videos using Picasa—including the hours you’ve invested and the most precious moments you’ve trusted us with. So we will take some time in order to do this right and provide you with options and easy ways to access your content. We’ve outlined below some of the changes you can expect.

Picasa Web Albums
If you have photos or videos in a Picasa Web Album today, the easiest way to still access, modify and share most of that content is to log in to Google Photos, and all your photos and videos will already be there. Using Google Photos, you can continue to upload and organize your memories, as well as enjoy other great benefits like better ways to search and share your images.

However, for those of you who don’t want to use Google Photos or who still want to be able to view specific content, such as tags, captions or comments, we will be creating a new place for you to access your Picasa Web Albums data. That way, you will still be able to view, download, or delete your Picasa Web Albums, you just won’t be able to create, organize or edit albums (you would now do this in Google Photos).

One thing to make clear is that none of this is happening today—if you have a Picasa Web Album you can keep using it as normal. We’ll start rolling out these changes on May 1, 2016.…

… Again, none of these changes are happening today, and we’ll continue to update you along the way. We apologize for any inconvenience this transition causes, but we want to assure you that we are doing this with the aim of providing the best photos experience possible. Google Photos is a new and smarter product, that offers a better platform for us to build amazing experiences and features for you in the future.

I always get a kick when these kinds of proclamations contain things that are simple lies:
If you have photos or videos in a Picasa Web Album today, the easiest way to still access, modify and share most of that content is to log in to Google Photos, and all your photos and videos will already be there.
I've checked the new "Google Photos" site and I'm missing four albums- about 1000 pictures, including the important Laxness in Translation images. 
…enjoy other great benefits like better ways to search and share your images …
Instead of a neat and orderly array of thumbnails that I can scan in a few seconds, I'm presented with a river of images that is extremely tedious to scroll through. There is a "search" function, however. Here's an example of what turned up when I searched for an image of a "transistor":

Oddly enough, I actually have a picture of a transistor. I found it with a couple of clicks in the old Picasa—RIGHT WHERE I PUT IT!

Google Photos is a new and smarter product, that offers a better platform for us to build amazing experiences and features for you in the future.

New? Yes. Smarter? Google Photos is a stripped down version of Flickr, a service I stopped using years ago!

As of today, I can still use the old Picasa site to store and access my photos. As of May 1st, if I won't be able to upload photos to Picasa, how will I be able to put them on my blog? Goggle Photos doesn't connect with Google Blogger! Trying not to be negative, I published a work-around to one of the forums and was surprised to see that it made it to the Picasa FAQ page!

Half a loaf is better than none.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Mondays in Iceland - #49

Blue Monday

GusGus, Nasa, 2009

House of Blue Lights, Reykjavík, 2009
           Skólabrú Guesthouse, Reykjavík, 2009
       Concertgoer, Listasafn, Reykjavík, 2009

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Friday, February 12, 2016

February Thaw

When a short warm spell broke the back of the winter of '70 it was good excuse for my then-girlfriend (shared, it's complicated) to play hooky in the cemetery. Splashing around in the puddles, her cuffs soon became soaked—like a little kid's.

She acted like things were the same between us, but I could see that she was giving me a thorough inspection.

When she finally was convinced that I wasn't going to die, we walked back to the car:

By Professor Batty

Comments: 3 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Would That It T'were So Simple

Alison Rosa, Universal Pictures

Hail Caesar! 
A Coen Brothers film.

I'm a big fan of the Coen Brothers work, they even have their own 'section' in my DVD library. Whenever they release a new movie I'm there on its opening weekend. Hail Caesar! is a giddy romp through the now obsolete world of the Hollywood studio system of the early 50s. I won't give any plot summary other than the most basic: Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a 'fixer' for Capitol Pictures goes through a series of tribulations on and off the studio during a day and a half of his life.

The Coens movies aren't for everyone. There is so much information in them that each one of them usually requires multiple viewings to allow it all to sink in. Many people don't have the depth of knowledge needed to be able to pick up on the various obscure references these films contain and find them uninteresting. That fact, coupled with the almost perverse situations in which the Coens place their characters, might give even the most open minded viewer pause (Joel Coen once described The Man Who Wasn't There as a film about a barber who wants to be a dry cleaner.) Despite all  that, I think it would be a sad world indeed if there were no Coen Brothers comedies. Hail Caesar!, while not as uproariously funny as, say, the middle third of The Hudsucker Proxy,  is humorous and packed full of philosophy—much as A Serious Man was.

Hail Caesar! is notable for its cast—almost all the principals are stars in their own right and even relative newcomer Alden Ehrenreich, playing a 'bad' actor, lights up the screen.  The production is, of course, first-rate.  Cinematographer Roger Deakins, who has worked with the Coens numerous times, is able to accurately portray the six different 'films within the film' as well as capturing the early 50s world which the actors and directors inhabit.

One note on the some of the disparaging reviews of HC I've read: there is a large number of critics who insist that Hail Caesar! is, compared to their other efforts,  a 'minor' Coen Brothers film. These types of reviews have always surfaced with almost every one of their films, The Big Lebowski was especially savaged upon its release, Inside Llewyn Davis was another. One reviewer of Hail Caesar even proclaimed that the 90 second (!) swimming  sequence in HC  'interminable': this is definitely not a film for those suffering with ADHD.  Fortunately, most reviews have been sympathetic, if sometimes missing the point. The Coen's films are modern morality plays, thinly disguised as light entertainment, but there is always more to them than what they reveal on a first impression.

I you want to read a "real" critic who does understand Hail Caesar and the Brothers Coen, check out the great Sheila O'Malley's glowing review.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 6 

Monday, February 08, 2016

Mondays in Iceland - #48

Saturday I found myself in the company of a posse of exploratory Germans, heading northwest to Snæfellsnes on a day trip. We started in the dark, braved the swirling snows north of Borgarnes, and were out on Snæfellsnes by the time it was bright enough to see the ghost of the mountain spine down the center. The moon hung overhead, still fat and nearly full, and the air had that fresh Icelandic country flavor I adore so much.

By the time we reached Arnarstapi at the south of the tip, the sun was properly up, creating window-glow and turning the clouds above the mountains pink. There´s a tiny harbor there, among improbable turrets of moss-topped basalt. On that quiet Saturday morning, the only other activity was a trio of fishermen at work on their little boat. The faint sounds of the radio announcer drifted out from the open car door on the dock, and there were muffled clunks and engine noises coming from inside the ship. Down there at the edge of the country the rocks contort themselves into fantastic curves, cliffs, and parapets, the castle walls that protect Iceland. It's a place I want to visit more, wander on those little paths that disappear over the undulations of the landscape. It's always been just a day trip though, and the plans of the day snatch me away before I'm able to go around that next corner.

We stopped for lunch at the turf-roofed kaffistofa there, where the low wood-framed room inside was cozy and the coffee was plentiful. The lone attendant there, a woman d'un certain age, was resolutely non-English speaking in spite of the foreign crowd, but pressed the coffee refills on us, and brought us our fish-flavored french fries quickly. By the time we departed, the weather was looking a bit lower but we continued on to the famous rock formations at the end. These frozen lava-splashes look like sentinels keeping watch at the end of the peninsula, and are accompanied by a wide beach composed entirely of black lava pebbles that have been tumbled and smoothed by the busy sea there. It's the perfect place to find a pocket-rock, a smooth hand-held memory of other places that you find when you tuck your hand into your winter coat pocket. I selected a promising one and tucked it into my mitten, where it grew warm as the seawater dried off.

There's an old shed near the beach there that's gradually being consumed by the landscape that surrounds it. The windows and doors are missing, the bolts holding it together are rusting brilliantly, and detritus from fishermen clutter the more solid corners. It's the kind of place that's crowded with ghosts of other times, and I always wonder if those who constructed it enjoyed the astounding location, or was it just a nuisance to be there in that relentless wind, with waves the height of two men roaring against the coastline? I see these places after arriving comfortably in a car, full of hot coffee and sandwiches, knowing that I don't rely on this tormented sea beyond for my very life.

By then the light was beginning to look murky and we'd planned to get a bit closer to Snæfellsjökull before going, so we all got back in the cars and headed for the road that goes into the mountains. After assessing the experience and the vehicles, we decided to change the plan, and instead hiked the kilometer up to Sönghellir, the singing cave. It had started to snow in earnest by then, so we followed the tire tracks up into almost complete whiteness, the snowflakes plastering our backs and the wind swirling around our heads.

The cave is a very tiny entrance that opens into a dry ante-chamber, and beyond that I don't really know, since nobody had planned to come here, and we were flashlightless. I managed a few dazzling looks at the tiny area we were in by taking flash pictures, which illuminated the walls briefly, but brilliantly enough that I could make out the scrawled initials from the centuries of visitors in the past. Must come back with better light!

When we came out, the snow had blown away, displaying the view below, a wide arc of seacoast and mountains, so monochromatically perfect and cloud-swathed that they looked painted. How can I ever doubt that this is the place I should live when the views are like this? Still, the darkness was closing in, as was another snow squall, so we traipsed back down the hill and made our way into the gloom back to Borgarnes.

In Borgarnes, the flames from the elf-fire were swirling brightly on the opposite side of the causeway, and the tail-lights there indicated something exciting was going to happen, so we pulled in just in time to witness a dazzling fireworks display and the last burning of sparklers and little rockets. We stayed by the warmth of the fire for a few minutes, watching as the last sparklers were lit and the final New Year greetings were exchanged. By the time we also departed, only one vigilant fire-watcher remained.

The trip back was dominated by the distant city-glow of Reykjavik behind the mountains, and by the time we rounded the edge of Esja, we could see the fireworks blooming over the spread-out stretch of city like tropical flowers, their jagged explosions a testament to the wind coming off the sea. Somehow, returning to the city here is always one of the most surreal parts of journeys here. Is this really my home, and what is this apparently huge city doing here so close to empty mountain passes?

Originally posted by ECS, January 7, 2007, used by permission.

Re-posted by

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Friday, February 05, 2016


The neighborhood I moved into when I left home was, to put it mildly, in transition. Many of the houses and businesses had already been razed; there were plans for more redevelopment. One location, a block away from my house, was a prime example. The Salvation Army had (and still has) a large complex where they processed donations and sold some of them in a store (on the corner, pictured above.) Upstairs from the store was a men’s dormitory. It is still there as well, although it is now only a minor player in Minneapolis’ burgeoning homeless problem. The anomaly was the large house which sat directly across street from the Sal:

I had the opportunity to inspect it when the owners—middle-aged men who had grown up in the house—were having an estate sale when it had been sold (for a parking lot.) It was quite a building in its heyday, eighty years prior. It had fabulous woodwork, fireplaces, and many spacious rooms that had not been butchered by remodeling. The sale, however, was a disaster. They had done almost no prep, the house was filled their parents mementos and personal things. Nothing was priced. When I asked about a some 45 rpm records one of the men, embarrassed, said “Oh, that's not in the sale.” I gave up on buying anything, the vibes were too weird. There were obviously issues that needed to be resolved. Nevertheless I did spend some time looking around. One thing I did notice was a stack of photographs—8x10s, professionally shot. They were of the Minneapolis Aquatennial parade, sometime in the early fifties. There were many pictures of the "Junior Royalty"—and I realized that the boys in the pictures were the owners of the house. 

There were dozens of houses in my old neighborhood that were destroyed. Everyone of them had a story, a story of better times, before the world changed around them and they became redundant.  My story was only beginning then, it was still full of joy and promise, although ultimately all of us who shared in that great adventure were also forced to leave, supplanted by freeways and parking lots. In an ironic twist, many of the buildings pictured behind the Salvation Army have been turned into pricey condos. Just to the right of building in the center of the top picture (with the water tower), sits a new Major League Baseball stadium, a modern commuter rail line meets the light rail system in the same location.

We were forty years too early.

A North Fifth Street Story.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 3 

Wednesday, February 03, 2016


The winter that wasn't isn't anymore. Whether El Nino's influence on the weather means anything or not is not for me to determine. What I do know is that today I've been shoveling snow. Free exercise.  That's how interesting my life is.

I recently received a survey that asked about FITK. Here's the gist of the email:
I’m interested in how the thoughts and experiences written by people like you on weblogs and other social media can be used to make conclusions about society as a whole. I am contacting you because I am trying to collect reliable data about bloggers’ opinions, experiences, and characteristics in order to refine and evaluate my analyses. 
You can watch this video about the project (funded by the U.S. Army, btw,) if you are interested:

It got me to thinking. Is FITK like these other, "daily life" blogs? Am I deluding myself in thinking that my efforts here are somewhat different, dare I say unique? My daily life is usually pretty unremarkable excepting, of course, meeting with fellow bloggers IRL. Some of the questions in the survey struck me as facile, i.e.; "Do you sometimes post things that aren't true? Do you sometimes make things up?"

Is it true? I try to be. Sometimes you have to make things up to be truthful. I don't think the researcher figured fiction into his equation. Or Art. Or "Common things which are actually strange and strange things which are really common," which, from the very beginning, is what FITK is all about. My life, albeit the tabla rasa upon which this glorious mess is drawn, is only the medium. The message lies somewhere beyond the mundane plane of everyday life. The part the researcher did get right is "Friends You Haven't Met Yet."  I'm not big on social media, but those bloggers I have met have been worth all the time and effort I've spent.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Monday, February 01, 2016

Mondays in Iceland - #47

Bobby Fischer's chair.

Not listed on any tour, this questionable attraction is in a back corner in a bookstore in Reykjavík.  Embroiled in a dispute in 1992 with U.S. authorities over money earned in Yugoslavia, Fischer had kicked around the world, ending up in Japan without a valid passport. He was granted Icelandic citizenship, he moved there in 2005 and died in Reykjavík in 2008.

Fischer had a few friends in Iceland, the owner of this bookstore was one of them. He let Bobby sit in his store for hours at a time. I actually may have seen him when I was browsing there in 2006, I don't remember:

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

                                                                                     All original Flippism is the Key content copyright Stephen Charles Cowdery, 2004-2024