Friday, September 29, 2023
Wednesday, September 27, 2023
Monday, September 25, 2023
Friday, September 22, 2023
By Jhumpa Lahiri
Written in Italian, translated by the author
Alfred A. Knopf, 2021
Its been quite a while since I’ve “visited” with Jhumpa. Since then a lot has happened in our parallel literary pursuits: this is her her third novel (in English) while I have written four. To be fair: in that time she has written numerous short stories as well as essays, non-fiction and poetry, most of which in Italian, her language of choice since moving there in 2009. It is also fair to say that her multiple awards and short-lists elevate her output to a different echelon than Professor Batty’s worldwide readership of 12.
Whereabouts is billed as a novel and, while there is a vague story arc, it is really more a collection of short 250 to 600 word first-person impressions of a person’s experience of the world around them (that sounds like the a description of this blog!) These tales are bittersweet and sometimes melancholy but never sentimental. Lahiri’s writing is elegant and unfussy. A perfect book for a lazy autumn afternoon.
Photograph by Venturelli
Wednesday, September 20, 2023
A novel by Cormac McCarthy
A novel by Cormac McCarthy
Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2022
The late Cormac McCarthy was acknowledged by critics and fellow writers as a master of English prose. Critic Harold Bloom called Blood Meridian (1985) "… the greatest single book since Faulkner's As I Lay Dying." The Coen brothers’ adaptation of No Country For Old Men (2005) won four Academy Awards.
The Passenger and Stella Maris share characters: Alicia and Bobby Western, siblings whose parents were involved in The Manhattan Project during and after World War II. Bobby, the older brother who was a physics major before dropping out of college, is a salvage diver who becomes involved with a mysterious government agency after discovering that a sunken plane is missing its flight recorder, and one of its passengers. Alicia is a math genius who also leaves college and ends up in an institution, haunted by phantasms and consumed by love for her brother. The deeds of their deceased father, who was a confidant of Oppenhiemer and was implemental in creation of nuclear weapons, shadows both of them.
The Passenger’s plot shifts between Bobby’s misadventures and Stella’s hallucinations. The linear narrative is secondary to discussions about the great truths of life and death, with occasional moments of hilarity. The book peters out and at the end nothing is resolved as Bobby ponders the verities of life and death in a run-down café in rural Mexico.
Stella Maris, on the other hand, is a series of dialogs between Alicia and her psychiatrist, conversations concerning math and physics, the unconscious and the ‘Archatron’. This is heady stuff but made palatable by McCarthy’s straightforward prose.
Reader beware: McCarthy eschews ordinary punctuation, including quotation marks. I had to pay extra attention, sometimes re-reading sections to figure who was speaking. Apostrophes are also often ignored, the contraction for ‘can not’ becomes ‘cant’, not to be confused with ‘cant’ (hypocritical and sanctimonious talk) a word which he also uses! You might want to read these with a cup of coffee, rather than a glass of wine. These novels aren’t as violent as some of his others, but they remain disturbing.
Monday, September 18, 2023
At the age of 29, Jófríður Ákadóttir is a seasoned veteran of the icelandic musical scene. With 11 full-length albums and scores of collaborations (as well as scores for films and TV) her output has always been introspective and this, her latest release, does nothing to change that. The songs are tinged with melancholy, perhaps just a reflection of current musical trends. My knowledge of contemporary music isn’t deep enough to make an informed opinion about her originality.
The songs were mostly completed during the Covid lockdown when she was confined to Austrailia, about as far from Iceland as you can get. That she was able to be productive during those trying days, far from home, is a testament to her strong work ethic. Whether she is, in reality, as sad as the songs seem to suggest isn’t true: when I saw her perform twice at last year’s Airwaves music festival she was in high spirits. All my idle speculation aside, her lyrics remain definitely on the ‘downer’ side of the emotional spectrum. An example:
Air UnfoldingThe music supporting JFDR’s lyrics is uniformly excellent, her compositions are more sophisticated now and the arrangements of these ‘art songs’ are beautifully executed by a variety of musicians. It will be interesting to see where her head is at when I see her again in November. If we’re lucky she may even be gracing the National Theatre’s big stage!
I don’t know what to do
Unspoken fears beholding
Lying in bed with you
Feeling the air unfolding
Are you afraid of us?
Are you afraid I’m not thinking?
Are you afraid I’m strong?
Are you afraid I’m not loving?
Tied all my strings to you
Lovingly was my gesture
Still I am next to you
Embroidered in every texture
Tell me it’s true
Why can’t you believe the best in me, honey?
Tell me you do see me as the one you truly choose
It’s your reason
It’s that feeling too
That you’ve got nothing to lose
That’s my heartache
That’s my love for you
I’ve got something to prove
Here’s a clip of JFDR performing one of her songs from Museum at last year’s Airwaves where she was a headliner at Gamla Bíó:
Photo: Art Bicnick, Reykjavik Grapevine
Friday, September 15, 2023
Dreaming of Airwaves III
One last look at my fever-dream of past trips to the Iceland Airwaves music festival.
The Women of Airwaves
Wednesday, September 13, 2023
Dreaming of Airwaves II
I’ve been thinking back about the 2022 Iceland Airwaves crowds that I stayed away from, mostly, (although I caught Covid anyway).
If I were to go again I’d have to make my mind up pretty soon—the supply of available, affordable and centrally located lodging has been drying up ($500 a night hotel rooms are not an option!)
I did get some pictures of faces in those crowds, however, mostly from a balcony, but a few right in the thick of things.
Oh, mommy, mommy
Please, may I go?
It's such a sight to see
Somebody steal the show
Monday, September 11, 2023
Dreaming of Airwaves I
Somehow whenever the heat index rises above 100°F I start dreaming of Iceland in general and the Iceland Airwaves music festival in particular. A few weeks ago the weather was the proper incubation temperature so I retrived a few evocative photos from 2018, pre-covid, when things such as flying to concerts overseas was simpler.
Eivør (below) is a force of nature; classically trained singer, rock ‘n’ roll guitarist. Numerous reaction videos from voice trainers as well as people who had never heard her before attest to the magic of her live performances: them performing their own material: flashes of intensity. I’ll be reviewing her latest album, Museum, next week:
Sunday, September 10, 2023
It was a relatively low-key affair, no rock bands or AV presentations. I made it a point to talk with people that I only knew slightly (or not at all) in high school. At dinner I sat next to one of my grade school crushes, she was as appealing as ever and seemed to enjoy my company. As the night went on, I roamed the tables, went outside to the smoky fire-pit, and even chatted up the bartender a bit. After the bar closed eight of us regrouped in the lobby and continued our discussions, catching up on news of those who were not there (Covid isolation, health issues), and speculating on why others didn’t come, or had never come. Lots of widows and widowers; a few had spouses with dementia. There was a Junior Chamber International convention in the same hotel, they were a much younger crowd but I thought we looked OK in comparison, despite the ravages of time.
That will be a smaller group, I’m sure.
Friday, September 08, 2023
And Then There Were Two…
Have I mentioned that I was in the The Minnesota State Fair Fine Arts Exhibition this year?
the catalog of the current exhibition and compared the artists in it to the older one.
While there may have been some names that had been changed, it was a simple matter to compare the lists of artists.
There were two names in both catalogs.
Mine, of course, and also Patricia Olson’s, who is an accomplished painter with a long career in art. I sent her a short email, noting the coincidence, and asked her if she was indeed the same person. She replied:
Wow! I'm impressed with your research skills — I am indeed the same, but older, Patricia Olson who had screenprints in the 1973 State Fair show. It was in the Grandstand then, as I recall.August Schwerdfeger
It's good to be in such fine company.
All the best,
Wednesday, September 06, 2023
A Look Back
Here are a few reflections of that trip to the Arrowhead region of Northern Minnesota.
Driftwood on Lake Superior shore:
Monday, September 04, 2023
Mothers and Daughters
Edie and Tallulah, 2017
The picture shown above has been alluded to here on FITK before, it was my entry into the Minnesota State Fair Fine Arts Exhibition. The two young women portrayed were not sullen teens working a fair drudge job but obviously pals vibing on the same wavelength and having a ball. Here’s another look at the two from the same day, not as mysterious, but seeing the two of them interact gives a truer sense of their simpatica:
Tallulah’s mother, Sarah, is part owner of the I Like You store, where the picture was taken. Amanda had suggested that I visit her shop so I met up with her at the fair last Wednesday. Two of her customers had seen the picture on the first day of the fair, recognized the subjects, and took pictures of it on their phones to show Sarah, a great way to start the 10 days of the fair. Her enthusiasm and appreciation of the photo (and of me) was genuine: I Like You is more than just a catchy store name: it is Sarah’s credo. She even took a selfie with me and sent it to her daughter who was not working that day. Sarah (right) in her native habitat
Both mothers emphasized that the daughters’ shared bond remains strong, a bond first established when they had met—in kindergarten! Perhaps my image of a “two-headed” creature isn’t too far off the mark. Both mothers also mentioned what fine young women they had become; Edie attends college in Montreal and Tallulah goes to the U of M. Coming-of-age in these troubled times must be a challenge to any parent.
Two mothers, full of love for their daughters. Two daughters, full of love for life.
A simple photograph that brought joy to four people.
Five, if you count me.
Friday, September 01, 2023
My Day at the Fair
Even the heavy equipment on machinery hill was in a festive mood:
I last saw him in 2010, he must be over 80 by now:
I guess I am aging out of the demographic for music at the fair. In the last dozen years such acts as Chris Hillman, The Trashmen, The Family Stone, Jim Lauderdale, Peter Noone, Brandi Carlisle(!) and many others of note were at the free outdoor stages. Perhaps the artists I like are aging out as well. The above mentioned Ramberg center always had 20+ great performers in an intimate indoor setting; its conversion to a bingo hall was the biggest loss of all.