Monday, March 30, 2020

Hard Times in Ultima Thule

With favoring winds, o'er sunlit seas,
We sailed for the Hesperides,
The land where golden apples grow;
But that, ah! that was long ago.

How far, since then, the ocean streams
Have swept us from that land of dreams,
That land of fiction and of truth,
The lost Atlantis of our youth!

Whither, ah, whither? Are not these
The tempest-haunted Orcades,
Where sea-gulls scream, and breakers roar,
And wreck and sea-weed line the shore?

Ultima Thule! Utmost Isle!
Here in thy harbors for a while
We lower our sails; a while we rest
From the unending, endless quest.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, excerpt from Ultima Thule, 1880

Sixteen years ago, when I was researching Icelandic blogs for an upcoming trip to Iceland, I ‘discovered’ Auður Ösp; I’ve been following her ‘quest’ ever since. Her example was the prime inspiration for the starting of Flippism is the Key. We met in real life in 2006 and this year I had a ticket to return, intending to meet up with her again. You may have heard of something that happened that prevents that scenario from occurring. While my personal story (compared the billions of others in the world) isn’t that important I find hers to be compelling.

For me, Auður’s greatest appeal was always her writing. An effective and personable communicator—her latest post is about how the pandemic is affecting her and is no exception to that rule. Auður (and her partner Hrannar) run the I Heart Reykjavík website, offering tours, links and a wealth of information about all things Icelandic. I have mentioned it many times during last ten years as I watched it grow into the preeminent resource for tourists visiting the island. She has been the face of Iceland to the thousands of people who have taken her tour or otherwise used her services. More than that, she “pays it forward” with contributions to worthy causes, including raising money by holding dinners in her home.

Now, the Covid-19 crisis has caused her business to collapse. Completely. She is stoic about it—Icelanders have faced hardships many times before—but this is a crisis of an entirely different magnitude. If it goes on as long as experts predict it will be a catastrophe, not just for her, but for all of Iceland.

Read the post.

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By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Friday, March 27, 2020

Mister Bright Eyes

This is Chapter 14 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK

Wednesday afternoon, July 15, 2020, Seattle

“No, I don’t see any Tater-Tots,” said Mary Robinson to her daughter Mareka, “Some things just sell out from time to time, but it isn’t as bad now as it was last spring.”

“Can we make them ourselves?” said Mareka. They were shopping for groceries for their first dinner in their new house.

“I don’t think so, but we can make hash browns, which are sort of like Tater-Tots. We’ve got potatoes and onions, and some oil and salt and pepper, that’s all we need.”

“I’ll do my best with what I have,” said Sean.

His mind wasn’t on dinner, however. The initial flurry of interest in his grandmother’s paintings had faded over the last six years—the last traveling exhibit of Emily’s work in Philadelphia had closed the previous winter—but its return shipment had been suspended when the museum had shut down due to Covid-19 virus. They had finally been shipped and were due to arrive tomorrow. Sean had been thinking about how he would store the canvases. Their new house had a large storeroom in the basement, not as secure as a dedicated vault, but there had been enough bankruptcies in the art world over the spring and summer to make Sean leery of using a commercial gallery storage facility.

After paying for their groceries, Sean and Mary and Mareka loaded the car and returned to their new house. Jo was in the kitchen where she was emptying the dishwasher.

“That was the last load, everything in the kitchen has been washed. I put some of my things in the fridge, the one in the cottage wasn’t working. I’ll make supper tonight,” said Jo with a wink, “if you don’t mind being surprised.”

“Thanks, Jo,” said Mary, “What shape is the rest of the cottage in?”

“It’s good,” Jo said, “It is very masculine, however. A little redecorating will fix that. It will be nice to be able to look out my window and see some vegetation for a change.”

“I’ll take a look at that fridge,” said Sean, “Want to join me, Mareka?”

“Okay, Pops!”

After Sean and Mareka left, Mary began laughing, “Where does she pick up that language?”

“I think we might have watched one too many Andy Hardy movies on the movie channel during the ‘shelter in place’ last spring,” said Jo, “I’m ready to spend some quality time in the garden.”

“Do you have have something planned for the yard?” asked Mary, “That might be a good thing for Mareka to get involved in, she’s crazy about that rock.”

“I’d like some color… perennials… if I get them started now they will be nice next spring,” said Jo, “The Center for Urban Horticulture is having a ‘plant event’ next week.”

“Is Jo going to live here forever?” asked Mareka, who was talking with her father in the kitchen of the guesthouse.

“That’s up to Jo,” said Sean as he began inching out the refrigerator from the wall in the guest house’s tiny kitchen, “She’s going to be working for other people more, she is doing consulting for other small businesses, helping other people the way she has helped your mother and me. She will live here as long as she wants, so you will still see her. It’s nice that she cooks once in a while, it’s a welcome change from my cooking, don’t you think? Aha! I think I see the problem with the fridge.” The duplex outlet that the refrigerator was plugged into showed evidence of arcing in one of its sockets. When Sean switched the plug to the other socket the appliance hummed to life. “That was an easy fix. I’ll get a new socket tomorrow and make it like new.”

“You can fix anything, Pops.

“Almost anything, Kiddo.”

Special Agent Marchal read the executive order he had received from the director of the FBI:
Cease and desist all investigations into the so-called Seattle "witch riot" of Saturday, 11 July, 2020. No agency resources are to be spent on what is a matter for the local police. Forward all evidence and paperwork previously gathered to the National Headquarters in Washington D.C..

Fredrick Armann, adjunct to the director.
Marchal’s notion that the agitators had not been local was confirmed by the letter. If the agency was no longer on the case the matter would quickly fade away, but he knew that the matter was far from over. He also knew where he could find some answers, even if he had to do it on his own.

He had a sudden craving for soe Russian food.

Wednesday evening, July 15, 2020

Sean, Mary, Jo and Mareka had just sat down to dinner.

“Tonight’s menu features Chicken Alfredo Baked Ziti, Parmesan broccoli and, especially for Mareka, a pan of patata bambino piccolo,“ said Jo as she lifted the lid of a serving platter with a flourish.

“Tater-Tots!” said Mareka, “Thank you! How did you know that is what I wanted?”

“A good chef never reveals her secrets,” said Jo.

After they had finished, Jo said, “How about dessert on the patio?”

“Another surprise?” said Sean.

“Everybody out!” said Jo, “I’ll bring it to you.”

Outside, the sky was dimming, turning toward dusk. A river of crows passed overhead, going to their night roost. The patio faced the back of the lot, looking directly to where it sloped down past the guest house. After the last of the crows had flown by the burble of Thorton Creek could be heard beyong the hedge at the rear of the lot. Jo slid the patio door open and brought out a tray with four dishes on it.

“Genuine cioccolato all’arancia!” said Jo.

“Genuine what?” said Mary.

“Gelato,” said Jo, “From Little Lago. Chocolate with orange.”

They ate their dessert in silence.

Finally, Mareka spoke up: “That was the best meal ever!”

“It was wonderful, Jo,” said Sean, “Although I noticed that you hardly touched your Tater-Tots.”

Everybody but Mareka laughed.

“What’s so funny about Tater-Tots?” said the child.

“I think we’re not alone,” said Mary, “Down by the creek, look.”

A surprisingly large raccoon had wandered up from the shadows in the underbrush near the creek. Eyes shining, it carefully checked out the group on the patio.

“Bright eyes!” said Mareka, “I’m going to call him Mister Bright Eyes.”

“Welcome” said Mary, “But don’t expect a handout, Mister. Bright. Eyes.”

“What does he like to eat?” asked Mareka.

“Everything, but he especially likes Tater-Tots.”

Next chapter: Returned to Sender

By Professor Batty

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

What th…

A quirky respite from all the bad news—more glimpses of Meow Wolf in Santa Fe:

All images taken in the now-shuttered re-openedMeow Wolf art installation.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Monday, March 23, 2020

Reykjavík Calling

What a difference a week makes.

Last Sunday I was nightclubbing, this Sunday I am at home, and have been at home, almost all the time, all week. I did make a few “essential” trips: groceries (where it was very interesting to see what people did not panic-buy), the auto parts store (to get a new car battery) and the liquor store (to test out the new battery.) We’ve got plenty of videos and books (and toilet paper) and the Weaver has just started a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle. I’ve got my hands full with the Friday serial fiction (which has mutated into a Covid-19 novel, currently set in the summer of 2020—earlier installments have been updated to reflect the new story line.)

If you haven’t had enough of the Covid-19 virus yet a webcast from the Reykjavík Grapevine gives a look at the pandemic from a different, Icelandic perspective:

Hosted by Valur Grettisson, editor-in-chief, and Hannah Jane Cohen, listings director and culture editor at the Reykjavík Grapevine, this Monday through Friday wrap-up of the current state of affairs in Iceland is a refreshing change of pace from the usual main stream media talking heads. Valur is a quintessential Icelander-speaking-English with all the wry humor and quirky delivery one would expect. Hannah, New York-born, is the perfect foil for Valur. it is obvious that they have a deep personal rapport—a relationship that leavens but never trivializes the serious issues they discuss. I would love to see them continue to do a “daily show” when this is all over. Don’t miss Hannah’s shirt in Covid-cast #5, guaranteed to lift one’s spirit in such troubled times.

Here is a personal appeal from Hannah asking for support of the Grapevine:

If you don’t want to join the club, you can also make a one-time contribution.

I owe them big time—a lot of my Icelandic ‘inside’ information comes from The Grapevine—so I felt compelled to contribute.

Heck! I was even featured in it once!

I hope you and yours are doing well.

UPDATE: Covid-cast #7 is down to the last two Grapevine staffers: Hannah, and Poppy—the intern!

UPDATE UPDATE: Covid-cast #8 is up, Valur is back, broadcasting from home, but Hannah and Poppy are now missing. 

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Friday, March 20, 2020


This is Chapter 13 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK

Wednesday Morning, July 15, 2020, Seattle

“Shall we go for a walk around our new neighborhood?” said Sean over breakfast, “I’d like to see how the other people here have planted their gardens. Ours has been neglected for quite a while.”

“Why don’t you and Mareka go ahead,” said Mary, “I’m going to see what we need in the way of groceries. We’ll go the the QFC when you get back.”

“OK mom!” chirped Mareka, “See ya later, alley-star-gator.”

“How did you know about your mother’s online name?” said Sean as they walked down the street.”

“I know secrets, yes I do,” laughed Mareka, “Hilmar told me.”

“We should give the Iceland folk a call,” said Sean, “Now that we have some news.”

“I miss Villí,” said Mareka, “When will we see him again?”

Villí was her half-brother, whose mother was Þora. Fathered by Sean, he was a year older than Mareka and the two children had spent a lot of time together when they were younger. When the Covid virus hit, flights to and from Iceland were severely restricted. As Villí’s father, Sean was eligible to travel there, but everyone involved thought it better to stay put, at least until the crisis had eased. While the rate of new infections was down from their peak in May, a second wave was expected in the fall and Sean felt that it wouldn’t be in the best interest of either family to spend fourteen days in quarantine in Iceland. Þora’s uncle Hilmar was a good man and devoted to his nephew.

“I do too, but it is better to safe than sorry. The virus will end and we can all be together again.”

The area around Sean and Mary’s house was a series of rolling hills with single family homes surrounded by lush vegetation. Most of the houses had been built in the fifties and sixties, but here and there a modern house had been built on the site of a tear-down. As they walked around a corner, they saw a older man working in a rock garden that was accented with spiky tall grasses.

“Nice garden!” said Mareka, “I really like the rocks.”

“Why thank you!” said the man as he put down his hoe, “I add a little bit to it each summer, the rocks help keep it from getting out of control. Are you two new to the neighborhood?”

“We’ve just moved into the Langley place on the next block,” said Sean, “I’m afraid that it needs a lot of work.”

“Oh, Dorothy’s place. I know it well,” said the man, “I’m Malcolm, Malcolm Wallen. Every summer Dorothy used to have a block party. She’s gone now, of course.”

“A block party!” said Mareka, “My name is Mareka.”

“And I’m her father, Sean, Sean Carroll. As soon as the pandemic is over, we’ll have another block party.”

“Yes, I’ll be up for that,” said Malcolm, “I’d shake hands on it but, you know… ”

“Six feet away!” said Mareka, “I know the rules.”

“You‘ll have to meet my granddaughter Sara, she’s just about your age, she lives here with her mother.”

“Ooh, that’s great!”

Barbara Merrit’s searches for “Jo Sanford” were, for the most part, fruitless. She had found a few articles in the Seattle media about Jo shooting an intruder—but only a few—and none at all after a few days beyond the first one. To Barbara, that screamed ‘cover-up’ more than a smoking gun—someone with some clout had stopped the story—but for what reason? The name searches were drowned in a flood of LinkedIn postings and obituaries. As Barbara again looked at the pictures she had taken of Sean and Jo something clicked. She brought up the files of the story her brother had been working on when he died five years ago. The image folders only had the date for a title. She started searching from the latest date backwards.

FBI Special Agent Marchal looked at the dossiers of all the known participants in the riot that had happened the previous Friday. A few of them were local trouble-makers but most were not from the Seattle area. This meant that they had to have been contacted days before the riot broke out and were now probably already out of the area. Someone must have been coordinating them. He found it hard to believe that the Russians behind the Billygate affair still held any interest in Sean and although Mary’s witch website had been popular that was several years ago—ancient history as far as internet memes went. That left the child, Mareka, and her ‘nanny’, Jo Sanford. Sanford had killed an intruder, probably a Russian assassin hired by ‘The Brotherhood’, but it had been hushed up and made moot with the explosive ending of that organization. His interview with Jo found that her and Sean’s stories matched—there just wasn’t anything of interest there. Mareka’s recent inheritance had certainly attracted attention, more than would be expected, but the riot was too recent of an event to have attracted such an concerted effort. Out side of the faint Russian connection, all of his leads had been dead-ends.

He’d pull in and question a few of the demonstrators to see if he could find a connection between the recent events.

“Hey Pops! Look at that!” exclaimed Mareka. A large over-turned stump was sitting on a corner lot, with an elegant woman’s boot perched atop it. “Why is there a boot there? What does that mean?”

“Somebody’s idea of a joke?” said Sean, “Or maybe it is an art statement?”

“Maybe it belongs to someone who died. Maybe somebody jumped to heaven from that stump and left her boot behind.”

“That’s quite a story!” said Sean. He was used to Mareka’s outbursts but wondered if she was more troubled by the effects of the pandemic than she could express, specifically the death of her Great-aunt Tina. He decided to change the subject: “Let’s go home, Kiddo, then we can go to the store.”

“I want Tater-tots.”

Next chapter: Mister Bright Eyes

By Professor Batty

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The Masque of the Red Death

   The “Red Death” had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal—the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour.
   But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys. This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation of the prince's own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron. The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts. They resolved to leave means neither of ingress nor egress to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from within. The abbey was amply provisioned. With such precautions the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve, or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine. All these and security were within. Without was the “Red Death.”
   It was towards the close of the fifth or sixth month of his seclusion, and while the pestilence raged most furiously abroad, that the Prince Prospero entertained his thousand friends at a masked ball of the most unusual magnificence.
   It was a voluptuous scene, that masquerade. But first let me tell of the rooms in which it was held. These were seven—an imperial suite. In many palaces, however, such suites form a long and straight vista, while the folding doors slide back nearly to the walls on either hand, so that the view of the whole extent is scarcely impeded. Here the case was very different, as might have been expected from the duke's love of the bizarre. The apartments were so irregularly disposed that the vision embraced but little more than one at a time. There was a sharp turn at every twenty or thirty yards, and at each turn a novel effect. To the right and left, in the middle of each wall, a tall and narrow Gothic window looked out upon a closed corridor which pursued the windings of the suite. These windows were of stained glass whose colour varied in accordance with the prevailing hue of the decorations of the chamber into which it opened. That at the eastern extremity was hung, for example in blue—and vividly blue were its windows. The second chamber was purple in its ornaments and tapestries, and here the panes were purple. The third was green throughout, and so were the casements. The fourth was furnished and lighted with orange—the fifth with white—the sixth with violet. The seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls, falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same material and hue. But in this chamber only, the colour of the windows failed to correspond with the decorations. The panes here were scarlet—a deep blood colour. Now in no one of the seven apartments was there any lamp or candelabrum, amid the profusion of golden ornaments that lay scattered to and fro or depended from the roof. There was no light of any kind emanating from lamp or candle within the suite of chambers. But in the corridors that followed the suite, there stood, opposite to each window, a heavy tripod, bearing a brazier of fire, that projected its rays through the tinted glass and so glaringly illumined the room. And thus were produced a multitude of gaudy and fantastic appearances. But in the western or black chamber the effect of the fire-light that streamed upon the dark hangings through the blood-tinted panes, was ghastly in the extreme, and produced so wild a look upon the countenances of those who entered, that there were few of the company bold enough to set foot within its precincts at all.
   It was in this apartment, also, that there stood against the western wall, a gigantic clock of ebony. Its pendulum swung to and fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and when the minute-hand made the circuit of the face, and the hour was to be stricken, there came from the brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at each lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were constrained to pause, momentarily, in their performance, to harken to the sound; and thus the waltzers perforce ceased their evolutions; and there was a brief disconcert of the whole gay company; and, while the chimes of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused revery or meditation. But when the echoes had fully ceased, a light laughter at once pervaded the assembly; the musicians looked at each other and smiled as if at their own nervousness and folly, and made whispering vows, each to the other, that the next chiming of the clock should produce in them no similar emotion; and then, after the lapse of sixty minutes, (which embrace three thousand and six hundred seconds of the Time that flies,) there came yet another chiming of the clock, and then were the same disconcert and tremulousness and meditation as before.
   But, in spite of these things, it was a gay and magnificent revel. The tastes of the duke were peculiar. He had a fine eye for colours and effects. He disregarded the decora of mere fashion. His plans were bold and fiery, and his conceptions glowed with barbaric lustre. There are some who would have thought him mad. His followers felt that he was not. It was necessary to hear and see and touch him to be sure that he was not.
   He had directed, in great part, the movable embellishments of the seven chambers, upon occasion of this great fête; and it was his own guiding taste which had given character to the masqueraders. Be sure they were grotesque. There were much glare and glitter and piquancy and phantasm—much of what has been since seen in “Hernani.” There were arabesque figures with unsuited limbs and appointments. There were delirious fancies such as the madman fashions. There were much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust. To and fro in the seven chambers there stalked, in fact, a multitude of dreams. And these—the dreams—writhed in and about taking hue from the rooms, and causing the wild music of the orchestra to seem as the echo of their steps. And, anon, there strikes the ebony clock which stands in the hall of the velvet. And then, for a moment, all is still, and all is silent save the voice of the clock. The dreams are stiff-frozen as they stand. But the echoes of the chime die away—they have endured but an instant—and a light, half-subdued laughter floats after them as they depart. And now again the music swells, and the dreams live, and writhe to and fro more merrily than ever, taking hue from the many tinted windows through which stream the rays from the tripods. But to the chamber which lies most westwardly of the seven, there are now none of the maskers who venture; for the night is waning away; and there flows a ruddier light through the blood-coloured panes; and the blackness of the sable drapery appals; and to him whose foot falls upon the sable carpet, there comes from the near clock of ebony a muffled peal more solemnly emphatic than any which reaches their ears who indulged in the more remote gaieties of the other apartments.
   But these other apartments were densely crowded, and in them beat feverishly the heart of life. And the revel went whirlingly on, until at length there commenced the sounding of midnight upon the clock. And then the music ceased, as I have told; and the evolutions of the waltzers were quieted; and there was an uneasy cessation of all things as before. But now there were twelve strokes to be sounded by the bell of the clock; and thus it happened, perhaps, that more of thought crept, with more of time, into the meditations of the thoughtful among those who revelled. And thus too, it happened, perhaps, that before the last echoes of the last chime had utterly sunk into silence, there were many individuals in the crowd who had found leisure to become aware of the presence of a masked figure which had arrested the attention of no single individual before. And the rumour of this new presence having spread itself whisperingly around, there arose at length from the whole company a buzz, or murmur, expressive of disapprobation and surprise—then, finally, of terror, of horror, and of disgust.
   In an assembly of phantasms such as I have painted, it may well be supposed that no ordinary appearance could have excited such sensation. In truth the masquerade licence of the night was nearly unlimited; but the figure in question had out-Heroded Herod, and gone beyond the bounds of even the prince's indefinite decorum. There are chords in the hearts of the most reckless which cannot be touched without emotion. Even with the utterly lost, to whom life and death are equally jests, there are matters of which no jest can be made. The whole company, indeed, seemed now deeply to feel that in the costume and bearing of the stranger neither wit nor propriety existed. The figure was tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave. The mask which concealed the visage was made so nearly to resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse that the closest scrutiny must have had difficulty in detecting the cheat. And yet all this might have been endured, if not approved, by the mad revellers around. But the mummer had gone so far as to assume the type of the Red Death. His vesture was dabbled in blood—and his broad brow, with all the features of the face, was besprinkled with the scarlet horror.
   When the eyes of the Prince Prospero fell upon this spectral image (which, with a slow and solemn movement, as if more fully to sustain its role, stalked to and fro among the waltzers) he was seen to be convulsed, in the first moment with a strong shudder either of terror or distaste; but, in the next, his brow reddened with rage.
   “Who dares,”—he demanded hoarsely of the courtiers who stood near him—“who dares insult us with this blasphemous mockery? Seize him and unmask him—that we may know whom we have to hang, at sunrise, from the battlements!”
   It was in the eastern or blue chamber in which stood the Prince Prospero as he uttered these words. They rang throughout the seven rooms loudly and clearly, for the prince was a bold and robust man, and the music had become hushed at the waving of his hand.
It was in the blue room where stood the prince, with a group of pale courtiers by his side. At first, as he spoke, there was a slight rushing movement of this group in the direction of the intruder, who at the moment was also near at hand, and now, with deliberate and stately step, made closer approach to the speaker. But from a certain nameless awe with which the mad assumptions of the mummer had inspired the whole party, there were found none who put forth hand to seize him; so that, unimpeded, he passed within a yard of the prince's person; and, while the vast assembly, as if with one impulse, shrank from the centres of the rooms to the walls, he made his way uninterruptedly, but with the same solemn and measured step which had distinguished him from the first, through the blue chamber to the purple—through the purple to the green—through the green to the orange—through this again to the white—and even thence to the violet, ere a decided movement had been made to arrest him. It was then, however, that the Prince Prospero, maddening with rage and the shame of his own momentary cowardice, rushed hurriedly through the six chambers, while none followed him on account of a deadly terror that had seized upon all. He bore aloft a drawn dagger, and had approached, in rapid impetuosity, to within three or four feet of the retreating figure, when the latter, having attained the extremity of the velvet apartment, turned suddenly and confronted his pursuer. There was a sharp cry—and the dagger dropped gleaming upon the sable carpet, upon which, instantly afterwards, fell prostrate in death the Prince Prospero. Then, summoning the wild courage of despair, a throng of the revellers at once threw themselves into the black apartment, and, seizing the mummer, whose tall figure stood erect and motionless within the shadow of the ebony clock, gasped in unutterable horror at finding the grave cerements and corpse-like mask, which they handled with so violent a rudeness, untenanted by any tangible form.
   And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.

~Edgar Allan Poe, 1842

Illustration by F. Gilbert Edge, 1902

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Last Gig

Sunday night I braved the virus and went to see my old pal Rich and his band (easily keeping a six-foot separation between audience members) :

His daughter Faye was in fine form, crooning soulful ballads:

Father and daughter joined voices on a duet:

Probably the last gig for a while—the Governor closed all bars and restaurants in Minnesota yesterday…

The Rich Lewis Band, Whitey’s Old Town Saloon, Minneapolis, Minnesota

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Monday, March 16, 2020

Virtual Iceland

It was a question of when, not if.

The Iceland Writers Retreat I was planning to attend in April has been canceled. With a limit on public gatherings as well as confusing travel bans, there was not much hope for ten authors and one hundred and fifty participants to get together in Reykjavík at the end of April. Fortunately, I could cancel my hotel reservation without penalty. A refund for my flight looks a little iffier, although there will still be Icelandair flights, they will restricted to a few major hubs, of which MSP is not one.

These are trying times, but my personal setbacks don’t mean a lot in the face of pestilence and disease. In the meantime, I’ll have to make do with some vicarious Iceland experiences, including a spooky yet charming video of my favorite Icelandic musician: JFDR at her CD release party, last Friday at the Iðno concert hall. Unfortunately, she pulled the video so you can no longer see it. This was truly a family affair, with all FIVE of the Ákadóttir sisters performing (including Björg, who wasn’t even born when Jófríður started her career) as well as various friends helping out on stage and with production. It is eerie to watch: when the camera panned to show the empty seats my heart sank.

Here is a video you can watch from this event:

By Professor Batty

Comments: 4 

Friday, March 13, 2020

Moving In

This is Chapter 12 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK

Tuesday morning, July 14, 2020, Seattle

“So we meet again, agent—?” said Mary.

“Robert Marchal, I worked on the ‘Billygate’ affair.”

Mary Robinson and Sean Carroll were sitting in an interview room in a Seattle FBI office with the agent who had previously worked with them. They all wore masks. They had been called there for a briefing on the recent riot that occurred in front of their apartment building. Eight years previously Sean had been pressured into a plot to hide details about the shady dealings of a United States Senator who was also, unbeknownst to Sean, his father. The affair had died down after the group behind the senator, The Brotherhood, had been destroyed in a mysterious explosion.

“Well, I never thought I’d be sitting across the table from you again,” said Mary, “Six feet across. Thanks for bringing us in for an update on this latest event. Is there anything you know for sure about the cause of the riot?”

“Did you find a connection with Ted Benson and this event?” said Sean, “The man from the nursing home in Decorah that I mentioned to you on the phone yesterday?”

“I spoke with the Winneshiek County sheriff; Mr. Benson is well known there, a regular ‘booster’ with his fingers in many pies. He’s evidently legit, he just likes to act the big shot. The sheriff talked to him about the incident, and Mr. Benson appeared to be genuinely shocked at the result of the ‘tip’ about your daughter that he gave to the KWAH news department. I don’t think we’ll be hearing from him again. The Twitter feed from the television station did cause a stir and we’ve spoken to the news director at the station. He denies any culpability in the affair, but I know how Bill Preston operates, he’s probably doing follow-ups to the story as we speak. The other major contribution to the incident was the actions of a certain television evangelist, the self-styled ‘Reverend’ Andrew Stevenson, based in Phoenix, Arizona. He, for reasons unknown, has decided that you, Mary, are a threat to the peoples of planet earth and must be eliminated. Have you had any dealings with him previously?”

“No, none that I know of, although it must have to do with the Icelandic religious group that I am affiliated with. I have contributed some written materials to an app by the group, nothing major… some simple affirmations and mantras really. I have no formal authority within the group.”

“There also seems to be something else going on here,” said the agent, “We’ve been looking at video of the event and there were definitely some professional provocateurs in the crowd. This has been the first real public demonstration since the George Floyd riots. I don’t think the Reverend Stevenson hired them, but there may be some person or group that is either trying to capitalize on the situation or has some nefarious intentions towards you and Sean and your daughter. Thank goodness there wasn’t any looting or arson. We’ll be acting upon some of this information very soon.”

“Here is some additional video of the event,” said Sean, handing the agent an SD card, “Our personal assistant, Jo Sanford, was across the street from the event, unable to get in to her apartment. She recorded some of it on her iPhone. Jo had warned us about the developing situation when we were still at the airport, that’s why we went to the Hotel Motif instead of returning home.”

“She’ll have to come in and give us a statement,” said agent Marchal, “Where can I reach her?”

“Here’s her number,” said Mary, “She is with our daughter now, helping her get ready to move.”

“You are moving? Will you still be in the Seattle area?”

“We’ve just bought a house, near Northgate,” she said, “Hopefully, it won’t be as attractive to rioters as the apartment building was.”

“Have you got some extra security?”

“We’ve been through this before, we know the drill,” said Mary.

Back at the apartment, Jo was helping Mareka sort her things for the move to her new house.

“Jo, are you going to move with us?” asked the child.

“Yes, I’ll be living in the guest house,” said Jo, “Instead of being in a different apartment, I’ll just be out in the back yard. I’ll still be working for your mom and dad, so I’ll have an office in my apartment too, for a while at least, until your folks get a new office.”

“I won’t be coming back here anymore?”

“Your life will different, better, you’ll be starting school, in some way, there are kids in the neighborhood, and a lot of good things will happen to you as you grow up.”

“Will there be riots again, is that why we’re moving?” said Mareka.

“I don’t think so. Your mother and father are talking to the FBI right now, the FBI and the police are investigating the riot,” said Jo, “They are very concerned and they won’t let it happen again.”

“I will miss living here, it’s the only place I’ve ever lived.”

“I will too,” said Jo, “It’s a very special place, the place where you where born, right here, in this room. I was here, helping your mother.”

“Jo, I’m afraid. You will still be my friend, won’t you? After we move?” Mareka’s lips began to quiver, “You won’t get sick and die, will you?”

“Oh, Mareka! I’ll always be your friend,” said Jo, as she held the child, “You and your mother and father are my family, I’ll be there for you. But you must understand one thing. Your time of being a little kid is over, you are a big kid now, with new friends and new things to learn.”

Barbara Merrit, doing research her project about Sean and Mary’s involvement in the ‘Billygate Coverup’, was looking through the results of her image recognition search for the face of the woman seen with Sean at the riot and in the lobby of the hotel. One face—from news reports from seven years ago—came up: Jo Sanford, a 28-year-old Seattle barista who had shot and killed an unidentified intruder. Barbara started more searches, this time about ‘Jo Sanford’, with as many variations of the name as she could think of.

“I’m moving in on you, Ms. Sanford, your dirty little secrets won’t be hidden much longer.”

Next chapter: Stumped

By Professor Batty

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Wanda Gág Day!

Sculpture by Jason Jasperson, New Ulm City Library

Last fall I made a pilgrimage to New Ulm, Minnesota, the hometown of Wanda Gág. When she was a teenager there had been some friction between Wanda and some of the people in New Ulm: she was looked down upon for a time when she choose to continue her education (after her father died) rather than becoming a shop girl. All of that ill-will has long been forgotten, of course, and her childhood home has been restored and preserved as a museum.

Her father, Anton, was a fine-art painter, generally portraying idealized scenes in a 19th century “bohemian romantic” style:

He had also painted many churches in the area, as well as large scale panoramas of the Indian Uprising of 1862.

There was a small show of art work by Gag family members at the Brown Country Historical Society, including a delightful little bookmark made by Wanda, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the uprising.

My trip there in November reminded me of a trip Wanda had made there, exactly 90 years ago. When Wanda had become a successful  artist and writer she made a bittersweet return visit to New Ulm in 1929. After spending a week with her cherished “Grandma Folk” (the Biebls, on her mother’s side), she eloquently wrote of her leave-taking:
  Well, so finally I got in the train. I could see Aunt Lena and Hertha from the window but they hadn’t spied me. The train gave a little start, and I saw Aunt Lena looking frantically to get a last glimpse of me. It was touching, all her unconscious gestures showed how deeply she too, without knowing it, felt the Gág-Biebl bond, but in a different way than Uncle Frank and Uncle Josie. And when she finally saw me in the window, and the train pulled away, the tears sprang into my eyes.
   I don’t know, maybe my feelings run away with me, in regard to the Grandma Folks—but I can’t help it—I had forgotten, I had not thought it possible that such utter, unaware genuineness still existed anyplace.
  Well—the train went on. Suddenly a queer feeling seized me—we must be about passing Grandma’s place. Sure enough! There was the little red house “banged up” (to use Aunt Lena’s expression) all around with manure to keep it warm—the snowy fields, the three tall cottonwoods. But there was a bleak look about it—for it had turned windy and cold. Just to see it all—after the three goodbyes especially—to see it slip by me was enough to pull my heartstrings sharply together, but with this setting, in this mood—to see, as the view swung around so that the south side of the home was visible, to see Uncle Frank come out and stand there, the taciturn, inarticulate creator—in the dreary late afternoon—watching, waiting silently as the train went by—the train in which he knew I was—this was too much for me. To think that he would come out to look at that train, knowing that he could not really see me—this dramatic final scene to my New Ulm visit, pierced my Slavic Biebl-Gág heart, like a sharp sweet blade, and the tears ran fiercely, hotly, ecstatically, hurtingly down my face.
  Oh what a pungent purging that was. Purging of what? I don’t know—maybe the purging of the last vestiges of fear of sentiment, of tenderness, of melodrama.
  Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye,—dearest, dearest, dearest, Aunt Lena, Uncle Frank, Uncle Josie. You are much, much nicer than you will ever know.

Much more on Wanda

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Monday, March 09, 2020

Oily Child

I was an oily child.

No Cisterns or Bothers.

Mudder and Fodder I have none.

Brylcream dreams.

Lube job.

L'il greaser boy.

Teen-age pimple-popper.

Still greazy after all these yarns.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Friday, March 06, 2020

Doubling Down

This is Chapter 11 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK

Saturday afternoon, July 11, 2020, Seattle

At the house showing, Sean and Mary, with some enthusiastic input from Mareka, had made up their minds and decided to make an offer.

“Ms Langley, is there anything that might prevent us from taking a quick possession of the property?” asked Sean, “We are in a position to make a generous offer with the proviso that we can move in immediately.”

“Are you suggesting a cash sale?” asked the realtor, “I know the sellers are motivated. What kind of offer did you have in mind?”

“We’ll go 10% above the asking price if we can close next week; this offer will stand until next Friday,” said Sean, “We’ll take it as is—with its furnishings. It will save us a lot of hassle, factory-to-retail furniture sales are still backed up from the virus effects.”

“Any other conditions?”

“We would appreciate as private transaction as possible,” said Mary, “Are you aware of who we are?”

“Yes, yes I am,” she said, “We always do a background check on our clients. Be assured that all our transactions are absolutely secret.”

“Thank you,” said Mary, “Your discretion will be rewarded.”

“Excuse me for a moment,” said Elly, “I’ll need to make a phone call to confirm the deal.”

In her basement apartment in the University District of Seattle, Barbara Merrit sat at her iMac, looking at images she had taken during and after the riot of the previous day. Barbara was the sister of the late Dick Merrit, who had been a reporter for the internet tabloid Dick and fellow reporter Elly Nelson had died in a car crash seven years ago. They had been getting ready to publish an exposé on Sean and Mary’s affairs. Their death, coupled the collapse of techcreeper soon after, had effectively ended the media coverage of Sean and Mary. Barbara had inherited her brother’s notes, effects and, after some complicated negotiations, all of the material techcreeper had gathered about Sean and Mary. Barbara was convinced that her brother’s death had not been an accident and that Sean and Mary had something to do with his demise. She was compiling material for a book on the couple.

Merrit was also making a timeline of the events of the previous day using the exif data stored with the images she had taken. She had been alerted in the early afternoon of the Twitter feeds from the TV station—Mary’s name was also popping up in tweets from a television evangelist. She had then made a beeline for their apartment. After checking into a room in a nearby hotel that offered a clear view of the apartment’s entrance, she had taken numerous pictures of people in the crowd with a telephoto lens, hoping to find some faces of the people who weren’t wearing masks that she could match up later with facial recognition software. When things on the street began to get out of hand Barbara had left her room with only her iPhone and her purse, intending to get close-up images without drawing attention to herself. She could hardly believe her luck when the elevator door opened on her floor and she saw Sean inside. After they got to the ground floor he left the building and she followed him at a discreet distance. As the riot had swirled around her she saw Sean go over to a woman standing on the bench of a bus stop and take her in his arms. She took as many picture of the couple as she dared and then hurried back to the hotel. There were now guards at the hotel entrance but when she showed her room card she was let into the lobby. When Sean and the woman from the bus stop showed up a few minutes later, she had made sure that she was in the right position to get clear shot of them together.

The phone rang in the office of Andrew Stevenson in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“Andrew Stevenson?”

“That’s Reverend Stevenson, what can I do for you?”

“This is special agent Marchal, FBI,” said the voice on the phone, “Are you aware of the riot that took place in Seattle yesterday, a riot may have been caused by your recent inflammatory Twitter comments and television sermons?”

“I don’t think I have to comment on that. I was a thousand miles away, I can’t be held responsible for what a bunch of pot-heads do in the Gomorrah of the Northwest.”

“You might want to consider your actions more carefully—incitement to riot is a serious offense.”

“I’m not afraid of you.”

“We'll be watching you.”

Reverend Stevenson hung up. He smiled to himself and said “The whole world will be watching me.”

Elly Langley had returned from her car.

“Your offer has been accepted. We can close as soon as Wednesday if you like.”

“Excellent, we can get our lawyers to draft up a bill of sale and get a clear title,” said Sean.

“It won’t be a problem. This is my late mother’s house. The title is already certified. My brother has given me complete power of attorney and he has accepted the deal. We’ve already removed all of her personal effects. By buying it furnished you’ll be saving us the hassle of disposing them. Most of it is old, but it is good furniture, mainly mid-century modern. It hasn’t been lived in for a year, she died last winter in a nursing home, from the Covid-19 virus. My brother and I have both been tested several times. The house has never had an infected person in it. How does Tuesday at 1 p.m. sound for a closing?”

“That’s perfect, email us the final figure and we’ll arrange the payment with our bank on Monday,” said Mary, “As far as the furnishing are concerned, your mother had good taste, we’ve got some, erm, a lot of other things going on and this will save us a lot of time and trouble. Sean, will you call Molly and have her write up an insurance policy for us?”

William Preston, news director at KWAH, was discussing the video from the previous night.

“Well, we didn’t get the story we went for, but the riot footage was picked up by all the services,” he said, “No sign of the girl, or her parents, though. They did land at SeaTac, we do know that, but they must have slipped back unnoticed somehow.”

“Should we keep a stakeout at the apartment?” said one of the reporters, “They can’t stay away for ever.”

“In the old days, we could just plant a guy there,” said Preston, “But post-covid he’d be picked up for loitering. We’ll have to get some info from the police, they owe us for supplying them with the video. Let’s put the little rich girl story on hold while we get some more info on the Preacher’s minions.”

Next chapter: Moving In

By Professor Batty

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Another Perspective of Santa Fe

Beastly Books

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Vintage Fringe

I wonder what the whole dress looked like.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood


By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Monday, March 02, 2020

O’Keeffe Country

Ghost Ranch and environs, February 27, 2020.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Night on Galisteo Street

What curses befell this fine old house to reduce it too such a sinister countenance?

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

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