Monday, April 29, 2024

Your Absence is Darkness

A Novel
By Jón Kalman Stefánsson
Translated by Philip Roughton
Biblioasis International Translation Series


This is a roller-coaster of a tale from one of the leading modern Icelandic authors.

On its surface it is the story of three generations of over-lapping Icelandic families and their successes and failures in love. It is told from the point of view of an anonymous narrator (who is also the author of the book) sprinkled with dialogs between him and a mysterious coach-driver (who happens to have a faint smell of sulfur about him.) As the tale unwinds, the coach driver interacts with the narrator—even suggesting rewrites!

It begins with the narrator finding himself in a church in a northern town in Iceland. He suffers from amnesia; people know him, but he only has glimmerings of who they are and why he is there. The narrator has fits of automatic writing from time to time, wherein he tells the story of a woman in Snæfellsness who, years ago, wrote a monograph about earthworms that caused her to look beyond her bleak existence and passionless marriage. There are about 20 other characters who interact with the story line, fortunately there is a dramatis personæ.

While it is set in modern, post-Covid, times there is a lot of rural Icelandic life and the narrative is quite earthy at times. There is also a playlist of mostly modern pop songs! 

What the book is really about is how passions and mortality shape our lives. Stefánsson also delivers numerous little digressions about various meanings of life throughout:
Each person has his own way in life. Some are open, other less so. Some people have a great need for companionship and a social life, others are inclined toward solitude. In whatever direction you lean, it doesn’t necessarily imply anything about your disposition towards your neighbour, those who matter to you. each has his own way, and no one should go against his nature. And naturally, everyone carries his own luggage. His wounds. His knots. Some struggle with them all their lives. And it appears that certain knots can only be undone by death…
There is a distinct presence of Halldór Laxness’ influence felt throughout, Under the Glacier in particular. It is, like all of Stefánsson’s work, well-written, but it becomes a bit much at times. Roughton’s translation is as invisible as one could hope for, given the novel’s peculiar nature.

Qualified recommendation.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Friday, April 26, 2024

Weird Tales - #1

Room 313

“We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.” ~ H. P. Lovecraft
In the University District of Seattle, there is a peculiar little bookshop.

It is a haven for bookworms and comic enthusiasts alike, tucked away on a side street lined with charming stores. On a sunny afternoon a college student named Eliza decided to escape the monotony of her daily routine so she cut her sociology class to explore the more esoteric shelves of this shop. She thought of herself as being too ordinary—that she needed something off-beat to stimulate her imagination.

As she wandered through the aisles her eyes she looked with curiosity at the garish covers of comic books and graphic novels. Digging amongst the trashy pop, Eliza found an old leather-bound tome wedged in a top shelf. It seemed out of place among the colorful graphic novels; its spine was adorned with faded runes and symbols. Intrigued, she took it down and gently traced her fingers over the ancient markings. Upon opening it, Eliza felt a strange energy.

She had found want she was looking for in that mysterious tome.

There was no penciled-in price on the flyleaf, so she took it over to a bewhiskered clerk at the checkout desk.

“Excuse me, do you have a price for this book?”

“Huh,” said the clerk, “I don’t recall it, let me see if it is our computer.”

“Is there a problem?” Eliza said as she experienced a mini-panic attack while the clerk checked his files.

“No, sometimes we do get books that aren’t in the system. There is no ISBN, no date or publisher either. It was probably a vanity press, how about eight bucks?”

All she had was seven dollars. “I can’t do it. Maybe five?”


Still too much. “Six?”

“Six and a quarter. My last offer,” said the clerk, with an off-putting grin.


“With tax it comes to $6.66”

Eliza paid for the book and headed for the door. As she stepped out of the quaint little shop, clutching the ancient tome she had just purchased, she felt a strange tingling sensation crawl up her spine. The book seemed to vibrate faintly in her hands, as if whispering secrets no one could understand. With each step she took, the world around her began to warp and shift. Colors bled together, and the familiar sounds of the bustling city became a discordant racket. Panic gripped her heart as the familiar streets she knew so well looked strange. Shaken, Eliza headed to the campus quad where she thought things would be calmer. Before she could get there she was greeted by a ragged busker strumming his guitar. He began to sing:
In the city of emeralds strange faces collide
Little girl lost in the chaos of the neon lights
Every street corner is a symphony of LOUD
A concrete jungle from whence dreams erupt

Pulse of the city can't be contained
Fusing of cultures in a vibrant display
Chaotic energy alive with the beat
Strange and wild children lost in the madness

Chaos thrives, chaos rules
The book in Eliza’s hands was really humming now and the runes on the cover began to glow a deep red. Reaching the usually tranquil quad, typically a picturesque scene of students lounging on the grass or strolling between classes, she saw it transformed into something eerie and unsettling, trees seemed to be hunched over; twisted limbs reaching out in every direction;  air suffused with an inexplicable tension; leaves rustling ominously in what seemed to be sinister whispers.

Suddenly, the campus crows that perched in the branches of the trees lining the quad erupted into cacophonous caws. As they took flight their black forms swirled in the sky, their eyes gleaming with an unsettling intelligence, and their sharp beaks seemed to embody malice as they circled above and cast menacing shadows on the ground below.

The shrubbery lining the edges of the square appeared to come alive, gyrating and writhing as if possessed by some demonic force. Eliza set the book down and the scene immediately returned to normal—the busker gone, the crows returned to their branches, and the vegetation once again benign. When she touched the book with the tip of her boot nothing happened, but when she touched it with her fingers, the red glow returned to the letters. “Perhaps it is my skin that causes the reaction,” she mused as she dug a pair of gloves out of her bag, “This should do the trick.”

It seemed to work.

She put the strange book into her bag and left the Quad, walking over to Hansee Hall. It was the oldest dorm on campus; a “quiet” dorm. She thought that it would be just the place to explore the odd little book. Legend had it that room 313, her dorm room, was haunted—cursed by a tragic event long ago. Eliza had heard the stories but dismissed them as mere campus folklore, although she had noticed peculiar occurrences—doors slamming shut on their own, whispers echoing in the dead of night, and, at times, an unshakable chill that seemed to linger in the air. Eliza had discovered that years ago a student named Sarah had lived in that room. Sarah was an introverted girl with a passion for the occult. One fateful night, after being spurned by a lover, Sarah attempted to seek revenge by summoning demonic spirits using an ancient ritual she had found in an old book.

The ritual went horribly wrong. Something malevolent answered her call, unleashing a dark force that consumed Sarah and left the room tainted with its presence. From that day on, Room 313 became a place of fear and dread. Eliza was undeterred. Armed with her curiosity and a desire to uncover the truth, she thought the book could be a portal to communicate with whatever spirits lingered there.

Eliza began to conduct her own séance, laying her bare hands on the book with mysterious symbols, closing her eyes, she began to concentrate. At first, there was only silence. But when a cold breeze swept through the room the atmosphere grew heavy with anticipation.

Suddenly, a figure materialized before Eliza—a spectral apparition with hollow eyes and a haunting aura. She sensed that it was Sarah, the girl who had once inhabited her room. Through whispered voices and eerie gestures, Sarah conveyed her anguish and her longing for peace.

Emily listened intently, her heart filled with empathy for the tormented spirit. She promised to help Sarah find solace and release her from the shackles of the curse that bound her to Room 313. The book opened to a page of an incantation in glowing letters that Eliza read and spoke these words out loud:
Spirits bound by chains unseen,
In the realms where shadows glean,
I call upon the ancient light,
To grant you freedom from the night.

Through the veil that separates,
Where spirits linger, bound by fates,
I break the bonds that hold you fast,
And set you free to roam at last.

Release the ties that bind your soul,
Let the energies now make you whole,
From this realm, you shall depart,
To find peace in the endless heart.
As the final words of the incantation echoed through the room, a blinding light filled the space, and Eliza felt as if a wave of peace had washed over her. The curse had been lifted and Sarah’s spirit had finally been freed. When Eliza opened her eyes, she found herself alone in room 313.

The book had vanished.

Friday Fiction , YA edition.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Ten Years Ago on FITK

Face at the Window
4203 11th Avenue NE, Seattle

It was too early to go to bed, so we decided to take a little stroll in the neighborhood around the hotel. The glittering glass in the street, reflecting from broken car windows (there were several within a three-block radius) gave the scene an incongruous sense of gaiety. As we strolled along I couldn't help but feel that we were being watched.

I was not mistaken.

A woman’s head, staring out an open window in a bungalow on the corner. Expressionless, unblinking, but not without some motion. Her eyes moved as they followed our progress, as if she were a painting in a creepy mansion in an old horror movie. For a split second I was mesmerized. What was that advice they would always give in those films when dealing with a potential psychotic killer?


I finally managed to avert my gaze and, fortunately, she didn’t come tearing out of the house brandishing a butcher knife.

This time.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Monday, April 22, 2024

Coachella Valley Preserve

The Coachella Valley Preserve is just a little north of the Palm Springs area. My visit there a few years ago was a great day-trip: nice hikes, picturesque palms, and even an oasis.
If you go, bring a hat, a camera, and plenty of water, (check out the opening times before going), summer is insanely hot so winter is a better bet. It is free (donations appreciated) and not terribly overrun with tourists. It is possible to catch some shade:

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Friday, April 19, 2024

Dinkytown Digressions

“Dinkytown” is a four-square-block near the Main University of Minnesota campus in southeast Minneapolis. My first experience there was as a teenager in the 1967—helping my father rehab one of the numerous 19th century houses there that had been converted to student housing (all of which are now gone.)

In late 1959 and early 1960 Bob Dylan slept here:
He lived in a small converted closet (behind one of the second story windows), above what was then Gray’s Campus Drugs on 14th Avenue and 4th Street. A venerable building from 1920s (when much of Dinkytown was built), I visited it often when I was a miserable student at the U in the late 1960 and early 70s. After Gray’s closed in 1998 it became a restaurant where I had eaten once. A victim of Covid, it now sits empty:
A few streets over on 13th and 5th is the Chateau, a Ralph Rapson designed high-rise. Its brutalist style was shocking when it was new in the late 60s. I remember going to a social gathering there in 1968 and thinking of how modern it seemed. That iteration was torn down and an 18 story high rise was erected in 1973. Spartan would be an understatement.
It is still popular—there is a waiting list for vacancies—but it remains an architectural outlier, all the new housing in the area consists of boxy “4-over-1” construction:
A far cry from Bob’s humble digs, 64 years ago.

In the 1970s, I worked hundreds of hours mixing sound at a club on 4th Street and 13th Avenue (across the street from the Varsity Theater) in a venue that has also since been renamed and remodeled:
Revisiting Dinkytown brought back memories—some bitter, some sweet—of my time spent on and around (Positively) 4th Street. At least there is still a bookstore in Dinkytown, where a discerning scholar can still find the priceless tome he needs for his dissertation:
One thing I didn’t see a lot of was students. There is probably a reason for that.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Ten Years Ago on FITK

Whistling Vivaldi on the Quad
University of Washington Campus, Seattle, April 4th, 2014

This delightful/annoying chap was making a video of his whistling performances.

He would set up his camera at the base of a tree, whistle several bars, then stop and repeat the process from a different position. He may have even been doing parts (to be edited together later?)

His whistling was brilliant—unless you were trying to think—but only the most curmudgeonly cynic would fail to be charmed by this glorious music on such a beautiful day.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Monday, April 15, 2024

Running on Empty

Death and Taxes.

Both are a way of emptying one’s life.

Actuary tables vs. tax tables.

I’m still alive, but our new tax bracket (due to 401k disbursements) may well be the death of me.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Friday, April 12, 2024

Faux SG Custom

Another day, another guitar… This is a MIC version of the venerable Gibson Les Paul/SG Custom guitar of 1961.

It is actually a pretty nice guitar, better in some respects than the original (and at 1/20th the price of a re-issue and at 1/60th the price of a vintage model!) While some would object to this guitar as a “rip-off”, it allows modifications without destroying its value, including gold switches, cream knobs and an aged pick guard. The smaller switch allows the middle pickup to be switched in but out of phase; Keith Richards had a similar mod on his Custom.

More guitars on FITK…

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Ten Years Ago on FITK

More From the Emerald City

Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle, April 8, 2014

My first trip to Seattle was in 2002.

The first thing I noticed then was the vitality of the city and its citizens. Maybe it was all the coffee? Subsequent trips reinforced this—the population density and activity gave me the feeling of living in an anthill. This time, however, something seemed different. The noise level certainly hadn’t abated; the cacophony in the city center (buskers, performance spaces, sonic art installations, sea planes, traffic) was almost too much to bear. The change I sensed was in the people. It seemed as if more and more of the massed throngs had that same flat affect of the hard-core digerati—too much time spent hunched over a screen, nervously scrolling, with a corresponding loss of physical vigor. The same things I’ve noticed in myself. When I see a campus full of young people dimly grazing their devices I wonder what they’ll look like when they are as old as I am.
One of the things I wanted to accomplish when I first started this internet adventure ten years ago was to become as much as an original content provider as a content consumer. I can see that balance is now starting to tip in the wrong direction. The Seattle trip highlighted these concerns. I was much more engaged there (although it helped that the weather was gorgeous) that I had been in months at home. I took more pictures in six days than in the previous six months:

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Monday, April 08, 2024

On Photography

The most distingushing feature of this blog is its imagery.

Mostly photo-based, although with manipulation and even a bit of AI-enhancement, it is harder to draw the line between illustration and photography. I erase that line whenever I think that the text could be improved with a dash of “visual enhancement.” When I was young I was pretty inflexible with my concept of photographic purity. Now, anything goes for me (with the exception of disingenuous malfeasance.) There is a fair amount of technique in my images, but how I create them doesn’t matter as much instilling a response in my viewers.

So, no discussions of camera models, lenses, f-stops, ISOs, workflows or shutter speeds here.

Photography is practical magic, and I am its practitioner. Enjoy the show. May your faded memories be stirred and suppressed emotions be rekindled—perhaps even getting some Punctum!

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Friday, April 05, 2024

The Lights in the Sky are Stars

Whiling away the hours of a mundane existence.

The lights in the sky are stars but they, too, will pass.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Wednesday, April 03, 2024


So cool…

Posterized screenshots taken from YouTube Video

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Monday, April 01, 2024

Secret Lives of Cats

Betty, 1982

Betty was a barn kitten I managed to hook up with when she was just the right age; already independent but not feral. She was the best cat with whom I ever shared a domicile. We were living in an old inner-city neighbor at the time, on the edge of an industrial area. She lived both inside and outside, an affectionate and interactive housemate in, and the queen of the neighborhood cats when out.

We did take her with us when we stayed at a cabin near Mora, Minnesota. She was just as home there, and would tag along when I went for walks in the nearby woods. Outside of exercising her natural tendency to prowl, I never quite knew what she was thinking, but I never doubted her ability to “live in the moment”, a lesson I still remember to this day when ever I feel bored.

Her “secret” is safe with me.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

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