Monday, August 30, 2021

The School of Housewives

Hússtjórnarskólinn, class of 2019

This documentary, about a school for the domestic arts in Iceland, is a measured look at a venerable institution that seems to be from a time gone by, but still manages to retain its relevancy in the modern age.

Young women (as well as a few young men) have been going there for over 80 years, learning all the little things needed to run a ‘proper’ household. I found it fascinating, not just for the subject matter, but also for its quietude; its leisurely pace. Stefanía Thors directs with a sensibility that is seldom seen in modern documentaries; some scenes are silent except for the ticking of a clock. Modern interviews are inter-cut with vintage 8mm footage, linking the past to present. It was shot pre-Covid, I wonder how the school fared during this crisis. Below is the link to the complete film, it may not be up for long:

The Nordic school that creates the perfect housewife.

At seventy-five minutes it may seem to be overly long for such a modest subject but if you allow yourself to succumb to its charms you will be amply rewarded.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Friday, August 27, 2021

Fear and Loathing in SF

Bottle Grove
A novel by Daniel Handler
Bloomsbury, 2019

This is a different sort of “mystery” novel set in San Francisco. On the surface it is the tale of two couples, Pagett and Vic (The Vic), and Ben and Rachel. The Vic and Ben are partners in a start-up and Pagette and Rachel are old friends from high school. Set in the late teens of the 21st century, in reality it is a sociological study of new and old money classes in the Bay area overlaid upon an Indigenous American folk tale. The miracle of this mash-up is that it is less of a mess than one might expect. Everyone is scamming everyone else, but there is some humanity left beneath these shallow archetypes. I won’t go into the plot but will mention that there is a lot of alcohol consumed and some tawdry sex that no one seems to enjoy very much. And a most unsavory vicar.

Bottle Grove was written by Daniel Handler (more well known as Lemony Snicket) but this book is obviously not aimed at children. Like any good folk tale, it poses more questions than it answers; a modern morality play that is not as pessimistic as it appears on the surface.

Qualified recommendation.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Art in the Time of Covid

The Minnesota State Fair Fine Arts Preview Night has returned after a one-year hiatus due to Covid quarantine restrictions. I masked up and braved the sultry air and sweaty crowd to get one last dose of culture for the summer.

Painting was extremely strong this year, Summer Goddess by Margo Selski and the surrealistic Untitled by Brandon Anderson were standouts:
It wouldn’t be a proper State Fair with farm animals, Dairy Queen by Patty Voje was another stunning painting:
If the painting was good, the sculpture was superb. Fred Cogelow is a past winner, his Strada Cornelia, Bucarest 2016 was amazing (cross eyes for 3-D effect):
This year also featured some fine examples of textile art, most notable was Kristin Williams’ felted moose:
My old fair-pals Genie Castro and Nicole Houff were there (as well as Nicole’s husband Kip):
Nicole‘s Wonder Woman Barbie was one of the few humorous pieces in the show, there was a lot of George Floyd and Covid imagery in paintings, drawings and photography.

It always warms my heart to see young people who have work in the show; here Julia Loth shows off her Flea Market Bottles painting to a proud parent:
Overall, I’d grade this year’s Fine Arts Exhibit as a strong B+. There was a ton of good stuff in all the categories. If you are cool mingling with a crowd of people in a pandemic, check it out, preferably in the morning when the crowds are small. About 95% if the attendees last night were masked, if that would be a consideration for you.

See all of my Minnesota State Fair Fine Arts posts here.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Monday, August 23, 2021

Cancel Culture

The late summer surge of the Covid Delta variant has put a crimp in my travel plans.

I had a trip planned (and paid for!) for a week in Seattle. The upward trend of infections happens to coincide exactly with those trip dates. While I have been vaccinated, the effectiveness of the dose is said to diminish over six months—which coincides exactly with the trip dates! The Minnesota State Fair is scheduled to go on, with a real chance of it becoming a super-spreader event, so I’m cancelling that outing as well (but not the Fine Arts Preview Night!) Any possibility of going to California next winter is now looking extremely dim. The only thing worse than catching Covid is developing a case while on vacation.

What about Iceland?

Iceland Airwaves is still scheduled to go on cancelled, and infection rates in Iceland are rising and the flight schedules to KEF, always confusing, have become downright inscrutable, as have the entrance requirements.

I’ve been refunded the house and car rentals so I have plenty of disposable income. The airlines have only given me credits, however, so I’ve got flights to both Seattle and Iceland paid for.

I’m all dressed up with no place to go!

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Friday, August 20, 2021

Summer Serenade - II

Stereolab, Minneapolis, 2000.

One of the things I used to do with the kids when they were teens was go to outdoor concerts. They were usually informal, with an electic mix of acts, some of which were inspired. The image above is from The Walker Art Center’s Rock The Garden, a series which has been held most years between 1998 and 2019. Not last year nor this year, for obvious reasons. There are still a few local concerts outdoors—smaller and theoretically safer—than the big gatherings. The park down at the end of our street has had Wednesday night performances throughout the summer, this salsa group played a few weeks ago:
With the recent rise of the Covid Delta variant it seems likely that this kind of activity might be curtailed again, but not in my hometown which features a food-truck festival this weekend:

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Hey! Hey! We’re the…

The Monkees, circa 1966

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Monday, August 16, 2021

Magic Words

Most of us, if we have ventured forth into the world at all, have met a pair of Mormon missionaries.

This post will have nothing to do with the validity of the Latter Day Saints, their theology or sociology. This week I was approached twice, once on the street, and once at my door. I have to hand it to these guys (always a pair). They are invariably handsome, well-groomed young men, dressed conservatively (yet stylishly) in black. They are invariably polite, and actually quite pleasant. I’m certain that they may win a few converts just for their appearance and manners. The problem with them is that once you have heard their pitch, you either accept it and become a Mormon, or reject it.

And reject it. And reject it.

Let us backtrack a little now. My great-grandfather’s grandfather’s uncle helped found the Mormon religion. He was the number two man, he was the first baptized Mormon and he baptized the founder. He transcribed the book of Mormon from Joseph Smith’s translations. Every book of Mormon, on the first page, has the testimony of the witnesses. His is the first name: Oliver Cowdery. He was also the Judas of the Mormon church, he resigned in protest over certain shenanigans of the founder. (No need to enumerate them here, but these practices would definitely be #MeToo nowadays!)

All of this brings me to the point at hand.

What can a normal person do to rid oneself (in a civilized manner) of these pleasant but persistent pests? Four magic words. Four words, whose power is so great that the missionaries have been taught to flee from anyone uttering them, flee as if it were Satan himself uttering this foul blasphemy.

Trust me. It works.

The words?

“Oliver Cowdery was right!”

BTW, don't forget to smile!

After all, they really are very nice young men.

This is an updated (image added) FITK post from 2004

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Greatest Hits Week - #4

Lesbians taking over the world?

I was sitting at work last night, enjoying a slice of pizza, with a co-worker who can easily be labeled as very odd.

He was reading an article in the trashiest of the Icelandic newspapers about this girl who hooked up with a boy with a very small penis. Evidently the girl felt as she had suffered from this experience and decided to write about every little detail in her encounter with the ill-equipped man. My weird co-worker found it hilarious and wanted to share his joy with me and read some of it out loud to me. I didn't find it quite as funny and told him: I will deny it to my death that I ever said this as I am the official spokeswoman of the inner pig-ness of men but I swear to god that sometimes I think women are worse.

He looked at me in disbelief as if he was wondering if those words had really come from my mouth. Then he said he had actually learned about these things in psychology and asked me if I wanted to hear the theory he had studied. I was all up for it since I am sincerely interested in everything regarding the interaction between the two sexes. In so many words, this was his theory:

Well, uhhh, when girls hit puberty they don't realize that they have to start to behave differently with their male friends than they used to. So they still behave the same around them and confide in them with the same issues as before. Except the boys don't just want to be friends with them anymore and use every opportunity to score. The girls then become very bitter when they find out about the situation and start focusing on their relationships with their girlfriends. And that is why the number of women turning to other women is increasing incredibly fast. In a few years all women will become lesbians.

The first thing that came into mind was what bullshit school did he go to? The second thing was hmmm... actually, I do that. I don’t realize that my male friends are male and in the end they can’t have friends that are girls without at least thinking about sleeping with them There may be some truth to this weird theory of his but I refuse to believe that the next stage for me, after the Men are Pigs one, will be lesbianity. As I said before, it’s not just men that act like idiots, people in general act like idiots.

In conclusion I have to say that sitting down to eat that slice of pizza sure did bring up a lot of interesting questions. Why are men the way they are? Why are women the way they are? Why do I have emotional maturity of a adolescent girl when it comes to men? And maybe the most important question of all, where the hell can I sign up for that psychology class? Looks like a pretty wacky place.

By Little Miss Loopy

First Posted December 18, 2004

Note: At one time this was the most consistently searched for post in the history of FITK. It got one to three hits per week, every week, for nearly nine years, then somehow faded in the Google search algorithms—perhaps because lesbians didn’t actually take over the world? “Little Miss Loopy” was the pen name of Auður Ösp Ólafsdóttir, an early contributor/inspiration for FITK.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Greatest Hits Week - #3

The Setwell Hanger

In the history of mankind clothing was, from its earliest eras, a distinguishing hallmark that separated man from the lesser beasts. Traditionally, pants were the one iconic piece of clothing that signified masculinity. This state of affairs has changed somewhat in recent years, but one need look no further than the universal sign for ”The Men's Room” to see how that imagery still persists.
One problem remained, however. In order to maintain a man’s trousers in a state of tidy readiness various remedies were tried. All were found wanting.

Enter the Setwell pants hanger: Patented on April 24th, 1934 by F.K. Deknatel. The Setwell is a must-have for men of style and fashion. True, there have been numerous knock-offs of this classic, but one only has to compare them to the original to see how superior it still remains.

The keen-eyed observer will no doubt notice the suit-grade flannel (#11) or the precision roller bearing (#20), or the piece de resistance: the tempered spring (#22) which opens the hanger automatically, with minimal effort, yet holds the jaws tight when closed.

Fashions may come and go, empires may rise and then fall, even the mightiest of mountains will someday return to the sea, but a well-hung pair of trousers will remain the standard by which mankind is judged.

This is a re-run of a FITK post of July 29th, 2008. This post has the most comments and has been the most-searched for post, consistently receiving dozens of hits per year.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Greatest Hits Week - #2

Top Ten: Laxness in Translation

This is the post that started the Laxness in Translation website which has expanded over the years into a bottomless rabbit-hole of information about Iceland’s only Nobel laureate:

The celebrated Icelandic author Halldór Laxness wrote many novels, essays, plays and stories in his long career. Those of us not empowered with a fluency in Icelandic are limited to a novella, a few short stories and this list. They are available although Salka Valka and The Happy Warriors are hard to find.

Translation is an art form in itself; I'll leave any judgment concerning the English versions of these books to experts. Icelandic is a very precise language (blessed with a vibrant set of idioms) and English has a lot of Icelandic "DNA" in its structure and vocabulary which should allow for a good conversion. Not being a native Icelander, I'm sure I've missed many cultural references in these books, conversely, reading Laxness has exposed me to many facets of Icelandic history, culture and psychology. I have read that Laxness has done more to shape the Icelandic sense of national identity than any other author has for any other culture.

This post is part of a challenge from Rose, who is also a big Laxness fan. With today being the 52nd anniversary of Laxness' Nobel banquet speech it only seemed fitting to present our views at this time. (note: this post has been updated several times since it was first published.)

Therefore, I hereby humbly present my personal "top ten" list of Laxness in translation…

#10. The Great Weaver From Kashmir (Vefarinn mikli frá Kasmír) (1927) ... It was his first work to gain wide recognition- the story of a self-centered young man on his quest to become the "most perfect human." Full of long philosophical passages, although brilliant at times. A full review is here.

#9. Paradise Reclaimed (Paradísarheimt) (1960) ... The "Mormon" novel, parts of it take place in Utah (kind of dry-!), in it Laxness explores religious and social themes, particularly familial estrangement. Based on a true story. Many people like this one a great deal, naturally popular with the LDS. Here is another reader's perspective.

#8. Atom Station (Atómstöðin) (1948) ... Pointed political satire aimed at the Icelandic government's acquiescence to the establishment of the United States military base in Iceland in the late 40's, with a memorable heroine in Ugla, who is a country girl who sees through the duplicity of the politicians. Her character may have been loosely based on Sigríður Tómasdóttir, who reputedly saved the waterfall Gullfoss from exploitation in the early 1900's. It has probably not been distributed in the U.S. until recently because of sub-plots concerning Communism and Anarchism. Laxness was effectively blacklisted in the U.S. because of this book. Full review here.

#7. World Light (Heimsljós) (1937-40) ... A very strange novel, first published in four parts with almost the entire first part taking place with the hero in a sick-bed! Ólafur's struggle with religion, sexuality and morality may be a bit much for a modern reader, especially after several hundred pages of his confused thoughts and morally suspect deeds. The book examines the saint/scoundrel paradox of the Icelandic Skáld (poet/writer) with insight and contains a wealth of peculiar Icelandic phrases and observations- ending with a transcendent finale. Very highly thought of by Icelandic readers.

#6. Under The Glacier (Kristnihald undir Jökli) (1968) ... The "Modern" Laxness novel, complete with new-age charlatans, a most pragmatic Pastor, the woman/goddess/fish Úa, and the hapless seminarian "Embí" who is trying to make sense of it all. A novel of ideas, very funny, very droll, its subtle humor may take repeated readings to appreciate. Quite possibly the most "Flippist" novel ever written. Susan Sontag's last review was of this book. Halldór's last original novel, written when he was in his sixties, it was much discussed in Iceland after its publication. My review is here.

#5. The Happy Warriors (Gerpla) (1952) ... Presented in a strict saga style, set in the era of transition between Christianity and Paganism, concerning two would-be "Heroes" who are out of date with the times. Masterfully written, full of cultural and historical references; it might not be the best choice for the casual reader, however. A full review here.

#4. Iceland's Bell (Íslandsklukkan) (1943-45) ... Icelandic history in the guise of a sprawling romance-saga; the English version has numerous footnotes which help to explain the mixture of Icelandic, Latin and Danish references; it is not for the attention-deficient but worth the effort, if only for Snæfríður's impassioned speech before the Danish authorities which speaks for subjugated peoples everywhere. Check out this in-depth review, in two parts, for more on this magnificent book.

#3. Independent People, (Sjálfstætt fólk) (1934-5) ... Icelandic male psychology (and much more) While reading it I found myself thinking that Bjartur, the hero, was almost exactly the same as my grandfather (and I also found more of myself in Bjartur that I'd care to admit...) Widely available, I grew up with this book in our house- it was a Book-Of-The-Month-Club selection in the late 1940's. Along with Iceland's Bell and World Light, one of the main reasons Laxness won the Nobel prize in literature. The late poet Bill Holm had been known scour used bookstores for copies to give to friends! Amazon has over sixty 5 star reviews of this book.

#2. The Fish Can Sing, (Brekkukotsannáll) (1957) ... Probably the most delightful of Laxness' novels. The orphaned Álfgrímur is, for the most part, a happy and simple child living in a world of colorful Pickwickian-style eccentrics in the turn of the century Reykjavík. His coming of age, particularly in his relationship to the mysterious Garðar Hólm, may be a metaphor for Iceland, then reluctantly emerging into the modern world. In light of the recent Icelandic presence on the world's music scene, Álfgrímur's graveyard dialog with Garðar is eerily prophetic. This is another work where nearly every paragraph holds some brilliant observation or subtle characterization. I've written about it here before, with a full review here.

#1 Salka Valka (1931-32) I have also featured this title here; this story started out as a screenplay and it has a definite cinematic quality- it has been filmed twice. As to the book itself, I have no praise that can surpass this article by an Icelandic writer.

For a good first novel, I would suggest Fish; if you like sprawling sagas, try Bell. If you can find it, Salka is absolutely tremendous- overwhelming at times- a real find of a book, it is scandalous that it remains almost unknown in this country. Laxness also published two earlier juvenile novels and some later memoir/novels which, to the best of my knowledge, are not available in English.

You can read Rose's post here. A final word of warning: Reading Laxness causes true addiction! Beware!

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Monday, August 09, 2021

Greatest Hits Week - #1

Joni Mitchell’s Coyote

The Professor is busy with family and other obligations this week but instead of going on hiatus I will be posting Flippism is the Key’s “greatest hits”—those posts which have consistently gotten the most attention over the last 17 years. Starting things off is my tribute to Joni Mitchell’s road trip Coyote:

“Great simplicity is only won by an intense moment or by years of intelligent effort, or by both. It represents one of the most arduous conquests of the human spirit: the triumph of feeling and thought over the natural sin of language.”
~T. S. Eliot
I am trying a little experiment today. If you'd care to join me in it open a new window in your menu bar and open (note: this post was written before the onset of smartphones and only works with a laptop or desktop computer):


in the new window. Squeeze the new window to the video width, let it buffer if needed and put it to the left of the screen. Then squeeze the original window a bit until they are both side by side. You may need to shrink the font a bit if you are using a laptop. Scroll along with the lyrics and my commentary.

Start the video and begin...

This song by Joni Mitchell is from the time she spent with Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue and deals with a sexual encounter she had with Sam Shepard (the writer, actor and musician), and how differences in their respective lives made it impossible to continue the relationship:

Verse 1

No regrets Coyote...

The affair is over, yet she feels compelled to revisit it...

We just come from such different sets of circumstance
I’m up all night in the studios
And you're up early on your ranch

... in Nova Scotia, near the Bay of Fundy

You’ll be brushing out a brood mare's tail
While the sun is ascending
And I’ll just be getting home with my reel to reel...

Joni defines their mutual attraction...

There's no comprehending
Just how close to the bone and the skin and the eyes
And the lips you can get
And still feel so alone
And still feel related
Like stations in some relay

Joni sees integrity in Sam's passion (wishful thinking?):

You’re not a hit and run driver, no, no
Racing away

… but of herself, she has a more realistic view:

You just picked up a hitcher
A prisoner of the white lines on the freeway

Verse 2

We saw a farmhouse burning down
In the middle of nowhere
In the middle of the night
And we rolled right past that tragedy

The farmhouse = Joni and Sam's past life?

Till we pulled into some road house lights
Where a local band was playing
Locals were up kicking and shaking on the floor
And the next thing I know

Seduction begins:

That Coyote’s at my door
He pins me in a corner and he won't take “No!”

… but Joni is enjoying this immensely!

He drags me out on the dance floor
And we’re dancing close and slow

“ and she knows exactly what she’s getting into:

Now he's got a woman at home
He’s got another woman down the hall

Smiling, at the moment of conquest…

He seems to want me anyway…

Sam, speaking through Joni's voice:

“Why’d you have to get so drunk and
Lead me on that way?”

Joni answers:

You just picked up a hitcher
A prisoner of the white lines on the freeway

Verse 3

Joni conflates their situation with the natural world, placing it in her personal experience:

I looked a Coyote right in the face
On the road to Baljennie near my old home town
He went running through the whisker wheat
Chasing some prize down
And a hawk was playing with him
Coyote was jumping straight up and making passes
He had those same eyes - just like yours
Under your dark glasses

... then puts his in the context of the current situation:

Privately probing the public rooms
And peeking through keyholes in numbered doors
Where the players lick their wounds
And take their temporary lovers
And their pills and powders to get them through this passion play

Joni won’t commit:

No regrets, Coyote...
I just get off up aways
You just picked up a hitcher
A prisoner of the white lines on the freeway

Verse 4

No illusions the morning after:

Coyote’s in the coffee shop
He's staring a hole in his scrambled eggs
He picks up my scent on his fingers
While he’s watching the waitresses' legs

Sam is suffering from being away from his roots:

He’s too far from the Bay of Fundy
Appaloosas and Eagles and tides
The air conditioned cubicles
And the carbon ribbon rides
Are spelling it out so clear
Either he’s going to have to stand and fight
Or take off out of here

Still, Joni can't deny the power of his charm:

I tried to run away myself
To run away and wrestle with my ego
And with this flame
You put here in this Eskimo

Reestablishes her distance by defining herself:

In this hitcher

and finally achieves her moment of great simplicity:

In this prisoner
Of the fine white lines
Of the white lines
On the free, free way

Realizing that the need for independence defines her, Joni can let the relationship go. She fades out in the distance, going alone on her own “free” way…

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Friday, August 06, 2021

The House on the Rock…

… may well be the ultimate tourist trap.

Tacky, chaotic, overwhelming, ridiculous and surprising—a collection of collections—presented with little or no context. Authenticity is not a priority here, and you can check any preconceptions about aesthetics you may possess at the door. I won’t even begin to try to describe it, I’ll just leave you with these visual impressions:

This is a FITK rerun from August 1, 2011

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Return to Bubble World

More photographic madness via my “Bubble World” camera:
Here is the “Bubble World” camera itself with its homemade optic attached:

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Monday, August 02, 2021

Matchbook Musings

A recent FITK series of posts planted a seed of longing for a winter vacation on the California coast. I have often thought about spending some time next to the ocean, where the sound of the surf and the mysteries of the tide pools would beckon, where I could hike for miles and forget the below zero weather in Minnesota for a while. One of the matchbooks featured a prohibition-era hotel in an iconic image that epitomized my unfulfilled desire:
I began to explore my options on Airbnb and VRBO in Moss Beach and found numerous offerings in a wide variety of prices, from $1400 a week to $1400 a day.
The more humble of these were basically studio apartments with no view of the ocean while the top end offerings included hot-tubs, direct beach access, and one even sported a 4 hole mini-golf course!
Two years ago this trip would have been a no-brainer but now, with the resurgence of Covid and the specter of California wildfires, it is not so simple a choice.
And the Moss Beach Hotel? I can’t stay there—it is now a restaurant—but I can rent the house next door:
As I am typing this post a smoky haze is engulfing Flippist World Headquarters. This has been going on for weeks now and the forecast has it lingering for several more days, intensifying a sense of dread and my yearnings for escape—but California has fire problems of its own.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

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