föstudagur, desember 30, 2005
Just now I realize that the warm shape sometimes seen in the shadow of the trees past the bamboo is none of the things I have theorized it might be (a piece of metal flashing, a wayward bit of plastic), but the window of another house, lit from within. Someone is on the other side of the pane, no doubt enjoying being in a warm yellow dry space instead of among the wet trees. I know I am glad to be on this side of the pane through which I peer out at that one.
In between, rain sheets down, mostly invisible.
I have no hearth, but I have lit candles. I do not draw the curtains because I do not mind the phantom flames in the window. They are merry enough. They hover, forming new constellations with the usual flock of glittering points, some outside lights on the hill, some reflections of lights of the room.
Ah, now they are guttering.
mánudagur, desember 26, 2005
I am on the edge of the world, or of my world. Other people's worlds must extend past here to the West, but so far mine does not.
And it is St. Stephen's Day. I have seen no wren, living nor dead, but an eagle, white-headed, flew along the water as I watched from the shore.
laugardagur, desember 24, 2005
fimmtudagur, desember 22, 2005
And an unfamiliar café w.c. can be disconcerting. This one now features a roll of toilet paper chained and padlocked to a metal rail as if it were a junkyard dog or an escape risk. The paper is faintly damp, the result, I assure myself, of ambient humidity (it is raining outside), but this fact causes me to reflect upon how distressing almost any moisture is when encountered in a public toilet. Unless actively flowing from the tap, it is universally unwelcome: on the floor, on the countertop, standing in the sink, dripping from the door handle, to say nothing of more fraught places. We will go to great lengths to avoid coming in contact with it, and the set of problems that attends this desire is exactly what toilet paper is intended to help you with.
But as a helpfully-located grafitto reminds me:
Who needs toilet paper when you have fingers?
A later hand offers the imprecation:
eco-weenie Mac user
which takes me a moment to parse. Another wit has rejoined with:
Who needs fingers when you have a tongue?
On the facing wall, I am greeted by twelve lines of holocaust denial in rhyming couplets, of which the first line reads: ho ho ho ho holocaust. It has been heavily annotated in imagined margins in numerous later hands, the owners of which take exception to the poet's spelling, grammar, and claims of fact both specific and general.
I opt to flush by pushing the lever down with one heavily booted foot. Doing this is not unsatisfying.
þriðjudagur, desember 20, 2005
When she wakes, she stands before the mirror and runs a finger over one eyebrow. The gray hair that had sprouted weeks ago among the black is gone.
mánudagur, desember 19, 2005
No wonder she flops down and slides so readily into fur-smelling sleep. But even then, the claws push out of their slots and draw back in, little muscles along her boney spine twitch and strain. I can see down between the hairs to the purplish skin of her temples, but no farther in, and I have to confess mystification: what could such a tiny brain only nine weeks old be dreaming?
laugardagur, desember 17, 2005
Indeed. I stand corrected on the etymology of Yule, and the correction rings true like a silver handbell. After singing In dulce jubilo and Gaudete and enjoying wassails and sword dancers and a procession bearing the boar's head, after snaking in a dance out into the hall, I feel sure that I have done whatever it is that resides in that lost verb, and I am hungry for the kind of midwinter fare I have myself prepared in dark and snowy places: pears and blue cheese, lamb and potatoes, carrots.
I miss that roasted nut smell here, though there are plenty of other holiday smells and sweet things to consume. A frenzy of baking has fallen upon me, and I have been dealing yoghurt cake and oatmeal cookies, cupcakes and muffins with both hands. Earlier today I felt the urge to boil sugar and make tray upon tray of pralines, blobs of southern decadence lumpy with pecans. This evening I realize that I have only ever made pralines with súrmjólk, and I cannot find súrmjólk here.
þriðjudagur, desember 13, 2005
Scientists have finally discovered what the narwhal uses that spiralling tusk for. As if this animal were not wondrous enough, livid in color (ná-hvalur, the corpse whale), threader of arctic seas, now it seems that the long jutting tooth is not a jousting lance but a delicate probe. The narwhal has turned what makes those of us with oversensitive teeth wince upon sipping ice water or hot soup into an adaptation. The great tooth affords more than that apparently, more that mere temperature readings:
10 million nerve endings tunnel from the tusk's core toward its outer surface, communicating with the outside world. The scientists say the nerves can detect subtle changes of temperature, pressure, particle gradients and probably much else, giving the animal unique insights.The mind races with the possibilities. What do the náhvalir know about the northern seas that we do not? They must know plenty that we know already: that the Sellafield plant periodically leaks radioactive waste, that PCBs leach upward in the food chain, that a whole þula's worth of persistent organic pollutants (lindane, chlordane, toxaphene, hexachlorocyclohexane) threaten the great silver- and white-pelted creatures of the glittering kingdom.
In the middle ages and long afterwards, narwhal tusks were traded south as unicorn horns, priceless objects. They were built into the thrones of Danish kings, eager to show their dominion over the cold wealth of Greenland. They were made into drinking vessels for monarchs wary of poisoners, for a property of unicorn horn was to render all poisons harmless.
I find myself wishing that the tusks had this miraculous property after all, and that they had it in situ, still anchored in their sockets, slicing prowlike through the icy waters, trailing glassy bubbles and purity.
sunnudagur, desember 11, 2005
A ballroom or social hall. Dancing. Have I forgotten to mention to my partner that I do not know how to dance per se, that I merely do my best to slide around in an appropriately rhythmic fashion? No matter. He seems game, though I think we might be tangoing to something not a tango, or else doing something other than a tango to a tango beat.
Racing in slow motion for the airport. I really must get this later flight; I have already missed the earlier one, the one I originally booked. And I don't have everything I need, and I'm not sure why.
laugardagur, desember 10, 2005
Walking up the hill, she pauses, lies down in the dew, stares heavy-lidded up at the stars. Clearly visible are the Pleiades, Taurus, and Orion the Hunter. Invisible is the black nebula shaped like a horse head, but she knows it is out there.
Eager for sleep, she gets to her feet again, trudges the rest of the hill homeward. There she climbs into bed, tips into sleep, dreams of horses, but white ones, some spectral and some chalky.
föstudagur, desember 09, 2005
There isn't much light on these hilly streets. The sidewalk is narrow. Tendrils of the ivy on the fence slap and claw against her jacket as she passes. She feels them but cannot see them. The moon is shining through a scrap of cloud and making it shimmer like rhyolite. Off in the trees, something more than wind is moving about, but she cannot see it at all.
Up and up and up, knowing that coming back down will make her knee ache.
miðvikudagur, desember 07, 2005
þriðjudagur, desember 06, 2005
Where is Georges Dumézil? I am sure there will be enough for two.
mánudagur, desember 05, 2005
The car sits on my side of the street, all cool silvers, technical-looking blues, and graphite blacks. The windows are rolled all the way down. Through these eye-shaped apertures, three dogs, also all black and white and gray, have thrust out their curious, whiskery heads to sniff and stare in three different directions.
sunnudagur, desember 04, 2005
The cranes are not so high, though they are way up there, standing very tall indeed beside the bridge. They stretch up from the water, balancing like stilt-walkers in a line, firey red in the afternoon light. They do not move at all. Their cabs are empty. It is Saturday, and their operators are having their weekends.
laugardagur, desember 03, 2005
föstudagur, desember 02, 2005
Two minutes later, sirens are audible, south and west.
Five minutes later, the fire engine rolls up the hill, past the front of the building.
Hours later, I still have no idea what happened.
fimmtudagur, desember 01, 2005
A famine of squirrels. I suppose that would entail a severe shortage of the animals. Such a thing might have occurred in early medieval Europe, the result of overhunting to support the trade in prized squirrel pelts, though as I recall the reverse was in fact the problem: squirrels were so plentiful in the forests of Russia that supply overwhelmed even the demands of fashion. The bottom dropped out the the squirrel pelt market and has yet to recover.
A famine of squirrels would not mean that squirrels themselves were experiencing famine. That would have required me to hallucinate a different grammatical construction. I consider this the next day on my way to a café, rounding the corner of a building where a fluff-tailed rodent of unlikley rotundity is trying his clumsy best to gain the top of a low ledge where someone has set out sunflower seeds.
þriðjudagur, nóvember 29, 2005
mánudagur, nóvember 28, 2005
miðvikudagur, nóvember 23, 2005
mánudagur, nóvember 21, 2005
This dream took place near a sandy shore, bright with northern summer light. It was not Helsinki and it was not an undiscovered island in Breiðafjörður, but it reminded me of both those places. There was a festival of some kind. There was a vast snaking procession that went up and down the broad flights of white stone steps that led, everywhere, up to neo-classical buildings. The snaking line was the dragon, the festival embodiment of a dragon, though I do not remember anyone carrying a head out in front. Perhaps the man in front was the head, somehow.
A woman was chosen, I think from the people assembled in the Aula, to be married, ritually, to the dragon. That was to be the climax of the festivities. The rest would be eating and drinking, most likely, and the enjoyment of the long, mild, summer day that would not grow dim until sometime near midnight. I was not the one chosen, but I had not expected to be.
There was a bottle, gold-colored glass with a black paper label, white lettering saying something in Danish. It was full of memory, but otherwise empty, and the cap had long since gone missing. It had never belonged to me, but I remembered it belonging to someone else. There had been laughter. The sight of the bottle brought it back to me, or halfway back. Not really all the way back. Not close enough to grasp.
At some point there had been another bottle, and it had been mine. I remembered this now and realized that I had forgotten years ago that it had even existed. The object itself was gone. It might have been blue.
sunnudagur, nóvember 20, 2005
All of this is set to steep for the week.
The steeping verb in Icelandic is trekkja. It is a drawing word, a pulling word, and just the same as Norwegian trekke it is used for drawing a card from the deck or a watch out of your pocket and for when the air is being pulled through the room in an uncomfortable fashion (these are cold countries) by a draught. It refers too, it would seem, to the drawing out of flavor, of aromatic oils, through the action of hot water or hard spirits.
All the same I have opened my most recently published edition of the Icelandic dictionary and consulted the entry for trekkja. There is no mention of tea, though I know that Icelanders use this verb if they are steeping tea and must for some reason talk about what they are doing. The entry mentions only coffee, the brewing thereof, and most especially the practice of pouring newly-brewed coffee back through the filter for a maximally strong drink koffínslega séð. Perhaps tea consumption was not deemed sufficiently Icelandic to warrant inclusion.
föstudagur, nóvember 18, 2005
On the right is firethorn. On the left, I believe, cotoneaster.
I had thought it might be bittersweet, but I was wrong. That is just as well, I think. Bittersweet and firethorn sound like the names of a pair of twins, heroines of some regretable fantasy novel. Nothing against a good fantasy novel, mind you, but my thoughts of heroism are elsewhere today.
miðvikudagur, nóvember 16, 2005
mánudagur, nóvember 14, 2005
It is from Sweden.
The fox and the wolf are travelling together. They have a long way to go, and they will be walking all night. They are tired and hungry and have just about run out of conversation by the second half of the night, and the fox says, I have an idea. Let's agree that whichever of us sees the light of the rising sun first has to catch breakfast for the both of us. The wolf looks down at the fox and thinks for a moment, and then he says Sure. And the wolf sits down facing east to wait for sunrise. The fox sits down next to him, facing west. The wolf thinks to himself that the fox is very stupid, but he doesn't say anything. He knows he's sure to win the bet.
They sit and they wait, and they wait and they sit. And the pre-dawn wind picks up and blows in the wolf's face and picks up the fur on the backs of the fox's ears. The eastern sky starts to change color, and the wolf leans forward, waiting for the disk of the sun to come over the horizon. He knows it will only be a short time now, and then he will have won this foolish bet. He is thinking about grouse and watching the horizon when the fox cries out There it is! Let's have you get us something to eat, what? The wolf whips his head around to tell the fox what an idiot he is, but before he can open his mouth, he sees what the fox saw: the first rays of the sun striking the peaks of the mountains to the west.
From here you see the very last rays of the sun at sunset, the ones that fly over your head after the sun has dipped below the horizon. If you are watching westward, you will miss them entirely. They are always in the east.
If you are lucky, the moon will be rising through them.
laugardagur, nóvember 12, 2005
Not a clunky mug or (angels and ministers of grace defend us) the supersize abomination of the pint glass. The latter is, to me, ever depressing. Its proportions and the dark color of the liquid contained conjures the subliminal thought of a rich-flavored, warming stout, and the watery drip coffee that actually hits the palette suffers greatly from the unavoidable contrast. Coffee good enough and brewed strong enough to stand that comparison is not something a sane person would wish to consume by the pint. In fact, no coffee I know should ever be consumed by the pint once the prospective drinker has passed the age at which life includes things called final exams. The pint glass is in no wise an appropriate receptacle for coffee, and the serving of coffee in such containers by local cafés only provokes the desire to begin drinking well-hopped alcohol that much earlier in the day, and as none of the local cafés serves the stuff (not in pint glasses nor in any other fashion), the frustration is great --- the greater, even for being fueled by an entire pint of steaming coffee.
My after-lunch coffee was neither of these, no, and not any paper-cupped pool either, girdled with some recycled, corrugated strip stamped with advertisements for a) raves, b) wireless access, or c) web-based ventures too ill-conceived to fully penetrate my awareness. It was instead a civilized amount of coffee, 8 oz., brewed over a gas flame in an aluminum mocha pot, a poor man's espresso served in a plain, white, straight-sided German china cup. The cup's exact career is obscure, how it came to me I have forgotten if I ever knew it. But it is empty now, its slight translucence observable again, and the outlines of a few stray drops are visible on the saucer.
fimmtudagur, nóvember 10, 2005
Furthermore, I am thoroughly chilled, despite the local mild climate, and I have come in for a pot of tea.
It makes you question your senses. It might even move you to poke a finger in one ear and twist it around awhile, trying to get the sound back on. If you had an antenna, you would bend it this way and that and grumble at the reception.
þriðjudagur, nóvember 08, 2005
Contrary to how it might seem at first, this suggestion was meant in a joking, helpful spirit and not as an invitation to fara norður og niður. Helpful because (and I had just mentioned this) I work best after sundown. The darkness removes from my field of vision a thousand things that might draw my attention away from the little marching words that somehow, despite much prodding, still refuse to march wholly in step. A flickering candle nearby can help. The motion of the flame, when I see it, reminds me that my gaze has drifted away from my task. But having the rest of the room dim, and blackness out the window, that is far best for my writing self. So perhaps it is not so foolish, this joking idea of becoming the seasonal traveller, spending September through April in, say, Longyearbyen and May through August on Elephant Island. Assuming I could keep my ink from freezing, I would produce volumes.
But if I were to indulge in this lifestyle, what would sort of perverse being would it make me? An öfugkría? I see no such creature listed in Jón Árnason's þjóðsögur og ævintýri.
sunnudagur, nóvember 06, 2005
Remember, remember the Vifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot,
Pray tell me the reason why Gunpowder treason,
Should iver be vorgot.
Guy Fawkes Day in a part of the world that doesn't celebrate it, where Mischief Night, such as it is, it attached to another holiday and has already taken place, and where the smoky smell drifting up to my windows is not of torches, bonfires, and firecrackers set off by parading revelers but only of domestic fireplaces.
Nonetheless, some part of me would have liked to have been taking part in such festivities, chanting along and lighting firecrackers and swinging the effigy aloft for the sheer satisfaction such participation can bring. At the same time, I cannot shake the knowledge that the holiday is a traditional celebration of anti-Catholic feeling, and I have no desire to take part in that manner of thing.
What do English Catholics do on the famous fifth? The practice of Catholicism is legal now in Britain, but is the anniversary of its legalization remembered or celebrated by anyone?
Is there any of these old traditional rites that is not inherently exclusionary in some way, that does not involve unpalatable ideas about people in some way different from ourselves?
What to do with the desire to be a singing, torch-waving participant without doing anything actually incendiary?
Update: Little did I know that Guy has a blog. V would be proud, I think.
miðvikudagur, nóvember 02, 2005
þriðjudagur, nóvember 01, 2005
mánudagur, október 31, 2005
Ah, no, of course not, of course not! That would be terrible.
fimmtudagur, október 27, 2005
One had an unmemorable name, but used as a logo an image of Yosemite Sam holding aloft a birdcage containing Tweety. This I thought remarkable chiefly for its insistence on cuteness, not a quality I associate with either the criminal justice system in general or the situation of needing a bail bond in particular. Upon further reflection the choice of cartoon birds is very odd. Figuring the individual behind bars as a canary is dicey at best. Only an actual stoolpigeon would be worse.
Another company called itself Aladdin Bail Bonds and displayed a picture of the iconic lamp, complete with a tasteful curl of smoke emerging from the spout. It took me a few minutes to realize what was so clever about this name. It casts the accused in the role of the unwilling thief of the magic lamp. He is at once a pawn in a larger game in which all the other players are more powerful and the lucky protagonist of folktale: he has our sympathies, and he will of course prevail in the end. Even better, the lucky protagonist has the aid of a puissant donor figure---I suppose this would be the bond man. Just by getting a bond from a company with the Aladdin name, the hapless accused becomes the innocent folk hero, and the inexorable narrative logic of fable starts rolling towards miraculous escapes, riches, a fortunate match, freedom.
The third called itself Bad Boys Bail Bonds, notable up front for both alliteration and the accompanying motto: Because your mamma wants you home. The logo was an angular line drawing of a square-headed fellow busting through something, possibly a door. I was impressed with the uncompromisingness of this name. It gives nothing whatever up to The Man or to any authority figure, the Freudian Father. It posits bail bonds as something that one needs periodically in the course of normal business, perhaps in the normal course of masculinity. The accused is bad, is a boy, but even the baddest boy loves his mother, and there will be no shame in posting bail as a favor to her.
miðvikudagur, október 26, 2005
mánudagur, október 24, 2005
sunnudagur, október 23, 2005
It's good to see you.
Yes, thanks. Hey, wow! They don't make these anymore.
They might be a little stale.
How ever did you get ahold of any?
I actually just found this box in my pocket. Haven't worn this coat since--
Oh, right. It's been a long time, hasn't it?
Yes, it has.
Do you ever hear from Gunni?
Not for years. I think he's seeing someone now.
Huh. We've been out of touch.
Really. That's too bad.
Yeah. Yeah. . . . That was a rough business back then.
Well, yes. We all got pretty banged up.
Scarred up, even. I mean, I've got plenty from that day in the woods.
Oh, I'm sure they suit you. And I got plenty burned myself, but nobody got killed, you know?
No, you're right. That's the important thing.
Right. You're doing all right?
Yeah, I am, yeah. You?
Good, good. Hey, it was really good to see you.
Good talking to you.
Take care. And thanks for the candy. I mean, Blár Opal. Svei mér.
fimmtudagur, október 20, 2005
The MARTA, the rapid transit in and around the city of Atlanta, has little television screens in each rail car. News and weather reports are transmitted for the entertainment and edification of the passengers. This surprised me.
Perhaps it is the influence of air travel (the pseudo-cinematic experience jammed into a jet-propelled sardine can) that makes people expect a lively screen full of talking heads to be part of their travel experience. And as air travel becomes ever more unpleasant, I am loathe to rail against any marginal comfort that might be found in such a thing.
All the same, I found it strange and ridiculous in the context of the little, rattling, local train. I understand (from the work of scholars more engaged with the birth of entertainments than I) the whole practice of resting the gaze on a framed, moving picture as one ultimately descended from the habit of gazing out the window of the traincar at the landscape moving past. Early film, after all, coincided with the rise of steam and rail travel.
But for me, the television screen set into the upper corner of the train window was a unwelcome doubling of the spectating experience. The eye was ever being caught and dragged up into that corner like an insect flown into a spider's web; the mind is almost powerless to override the hardwiring that makes bright color and shifting motion such a lure. But there was nothing in that little box full of Atlanta as performed, described, and represented by four-inch-high smiling faces near as interesting as the sight of the actual Atlanta just outside, and I was sorry to miss what I was too distracted to see.
þriðjudagur, október 18, 2005
There was an old manor house turned museum, the upper hall filled with sleighs that had belonged to the family in past centuries. Each sleigh had name, shown on a plaque in Finnish and English, though the Finnish was not the Finnish of the waking world. A smaller one was Swan (Kalle or Kulle), a larger one Reindeer (a compound involving an element meaning ‘water’). There were more, perhaps even ten, arrayed on the white and black marble floor behind velvet ropes. All were made of bent wood, elaborate curving shapes like filligree or the arms of chandeliers.
Outside (where? I do not remember) there was a smiling young woman, perhaps a guide, with light, curly, cloudlike hair. She addressed me in Flemish (did she think I was Flemish myself?). Which I recognized as such (or as dream-Flemish) and understood enough of, but even in dreams I do not know Flemish well enough to speak it back. She must have sensed this (I hesitated, after all), and she asked, Do you understand Vlams? I wish I remembered the exact syllables well enough to try to spell them here.
I do remember drawing my eyebrows together and making my best effort, in a mix of words she’d just used and some Old Norse with reconstructed pronounciation, doing my best with the uvular R, to say that I would like to learn Vlams. Again, I cannot reproduce the syllables exactly, but they were good enough to be understood, because she brightened at this even beyond her already radiant affect and clapped me on the shoulder. She urged me to stay in touch, to visit her at home, gave me an address in Åbo.
The hills are east of here, so all moonrises and sunrises are late. This suits me fine.
It's just risen, full and very white, making the sodium lights on the dark hillside that much yellower. By the time I post this, it will be a hand's breadth above the trees and rooflines, up in the thin, gray clouds.
It never gets old, seeing the earth roll towards its single satellite, the same way it never fails to surprise when, just before sleep, the bed tilts away under you, and you come up gasping and clutching the covers, heart racing.
mánudagur, október 17, 2005
To carry out this plan intermediate steps must be taken. We bring candles out for light to work by and set knives out on the table. We saw open the gourds and slop out handfulls of sweet-smelling orange pulp. It is spongy, stringy, full of seeds. Most of it ends up in a ready bowl. Some of it lands on the ground. We become absorbed in tracing and cutting.
Through a gap in the fence pokes a little black nose, then reaches a black hand on the end of a gray-furred arm. Our refuse is someone else's happy find, though it takes us a while to notice this. But ultimately we do. We stand, peering into the darkness beyond the candlelight, just where the leaves cast shadows, transfixed by two shiny black eyes in a black mask peering back.
laugardagur, október 15, 2005
Today I learn from the radio that avian influenza has reached Romania from points further east. Commentators speak of a coming pandemic, using phrases like "not if but when." The spread of the disease is being blamed, not unreasonably, on the passage of migratory birds. They come, they mingle with local domesticated flocks, and fly on.
Outside my windows I regularly see crows, jays, hawks, and hummingbirds. I enjoy the view. When my mind turns from them to cinema, I think of Perrin's souring images. I dislike the idea of seeing the flap and flutter of wings and thinking, instead, of Hitchcock.
fimmtudagur, október 13, 2005
The juxtaposition is a striking one. I have noticed that it yields more than one interpretation.
Over the course of any given day, as the light changes, the smilodon's affect changes. Sometimes he seems about to thrust his angry forepaw through the cheap siding in a fit of territoriality or æsthetic offense at sub-standard architecture. In twilight he looks like a moment from a horror film, the monster's final approach to the abode of men, and the next shot will be from inside, as the beast's head and shoulders come crashing through from without. In low morning light, from certain angles, he looks less angry and more inquisitive, reaching a paw out to bat at this new, strange part of his environment. Occassionally he has seemed to me to be about to scratch at the wooden siding, gently for such a big animal, in the hopes that someone inside would come out, perhaps with a bowl of milk.
föstudagur, október 07, 2005
I have to rethink the entire landscape. Thousands of birds nest there and only there; everyone knows that. But whose invisible mines leave those tailings? Who uses that island as a shipbreaking yard and for what fleet?
The first was a slender calico tail hanging between the stone balusters of a footbridge. The attention of the presumptive cat was focussed on something off in the dark and the bushes; I did not see what.
The second was only a meow, rather plaintive, with a frequency of about once every three seconds, heard from above and slightly to the west, for a duration of perhaps a quarter of an hour.
miðvikudagur, október 05, 2005
I write through and I mean through, not between. My neighbor hanging in the window has long, stripey, jointed legs, and the dark stripes are opaque but the light stripes are translucent. It is a sexy, sheer effect any designer of hosiery would justly envy. I have spent a fair amount of time peering outwards and admiring how the arachnid architecture lights up in the sunshine. My photographs allow me to look even more closely by magnifying the image. There is muscle in the hollow tubes the drinking-straw-like legs, thin fiber that twitches and moves the articulated mechanism. I know this to be the case, but I cannot quite see it in the photographs, even when viewed super-large on my computer screen. I just see the light coming through.
I may look again tomorrow.
þriðjudagur, október 04, 2005
There was also a small white dog, prick-eared and bushy-bummed, looking smart in what could have as well been a pair of plus fours. He might have been on his way to play a round of golf, or, more likely, to have a drink in the clubhouse (proper attire required).
And I nearly forgot that little loop of some vegetative thing, twisted like a withy, a fairie-child's hoop. This morning it rolled along just ahead of me for ten strides, animated by the breeze.
sunnudagur, október 02, 2005
For some reason September never brings this feeling on. Even though it is seventh and number nine, I hear the element sept- as if it came from a Proto Indo European root meaning colored leaves, summer's end, night frost, wood smoke and had nothing with sevens to do at all. Maybe it is because I habitually confuse sevens and nines anyway, or because the smell of new books tends to soothe any worries about the coming autumn, or because no terrible ill has ever befallen me in September.
Nonetheless, I like October and always have. But it makes the needle skip, gives a little jolt, makes me want to try to race to catch up with the things that are gliding away.
laugardagur, október 01, 2005
I stepped out my door this afternoon only to realize that I was being coolly observed by a gray cat. This would be unremarkable but for the fact that my door (at least the door I mean to indicate this time with the phrase "my door") is on a upper floor of a building that does not permit the residence of animals. Keys still in hand, I regarded the cat and wondered just what his status was. A tourist, perhaps, visiting friends? Or was he an indocumentado? The cat regarded me back from his spot on the hallway carpet, not visibly put out but also not particularly friendly. Cautious. Apartment building hallways are strange spaces, after all, where the rules of social conduct can be a little hazy. I had somewhere to be, and I did not want to make awkward conversation that might have touched on my interlocutor's potentially illegal status (this would not have been neighborly), and so I made for the stairwell without tarrying (looking, I expect, like someone who had just run into a former lover in the grocery store).
The other neighbor with whom I have made a passing acquaintance is a large spider living immediately outside my living room window. The pane of intervening glass makes for an easier and thus more comfortable coexistence, though I am not sure that reflects well on me. The spider seems at any rate blissfully unconcerned about living in what amounts to a two-dimensional panopticon. I, for my part, am not anxious that my neighbor will be deported in dead of night, as the few centimeters between his abode and my own puts him outside the reach of the law.
fimmtudagur, september 29, 2005
Both of them make me think of a boy I remember whose mild scoliosis made his back a beautiful S-curve from front to back, tipping his hips and his ribcage out of the prosaic straight line most men have. It did not make him girlish, but rather powerful-looking, elastic. I drew him again and again in the margins of my algebra notes
Somewhere I read that the skeletons of Welsh bowmen had been unearthed in Britain. After years of drawing 200-pound bows with one hand, training for war since boyhood, they had built up such muscle on their right arms that it had pulled their growing spines to one side. Nature's symmetry was sacrificed for military effect, for the ability to rain death upon the French at Agincourt. Skeleton after skeleton came to light with the same swayed vertebræ, all speaking of intimate knowledge of bent yew. I wonder if, in life, these young men also had a compelling, unbalanced elegance in the way their shoulders tipped or the way they leaned in doorframes, if people admired their bent frames as a kind of beauty.
miðvikudagur, september 28, 2005
Creativity is a strange thing and sometimes quite difficult and uncomfortable. For this reason, when engaged, say, in the production of multiple drafts of a letter one is not even terribly excited about writing, it can be theraputic to consider the vocabulary of the draft itself.
The draft (or draught) has to do with dragging or drawing, pulling and hauling, as in draft horse and as in drayage. The cognates are clear: Icelandic draga (to drag) and its derivative drög (a draft). The rough draft can be rough going indeed, and we have perhaps all felt like the overloaded equine, straining between the shafts.
But sometimes the writing isn't going even that well, and that is when I derive some measure of glee from savoring how the Scandinavian word for draft, utkast (something just kind of thrown out there, I suppose), corresponds to the more amusing Icelandic uppkast, itself morphologically identical to, f.eks., Norwegian oppkast, from kaste (throw) and opp (up), and meaning just what you think it does.
That Icelandic word uppkast so well reflects, on a bad writing day, the sensation of having retched up something terrible, a sensation I think we all know well. On those days I sense Egill and Óðinn in the background, watching, probably laughing, in fact most probably snorting small beer out their nostrils as if in ironic recapitulation of the reigning metaphor. Of course, it all resonates, too, with the myth of poetry as the vomiting forth of the skaldic mead, the oral presentation, if you will, of the well-digested materials of inspiration. And, when one is really flying, creatively speaking, this is what makes uppkast appropriate even to those better writing days as well.
mánudagur, september 26, 2005
Actual lions are as far from them as their mountain is from me, for it isn't Kilamanjaro or even Olympus I have in mind, but Esja. Seen in that light, it is strange that any kind of snow blowing down Esja's mossy flanks should be called after a lion, an animal that has never trod the heaths of Thule or Norroway.
But other signs point to a collective boreal lion dream. Think of the lion of Finland, the axe-wielding, crown-bearing lion of Norway, Scotland's royal lion, England's three lions passant, the three blue lions of Denmark surrounded by a flurry of hearts. Some great feline stalks the Northern imaginary, clearly, one prouder and less shy of daylight than the black cats of Britain. Perhaps the fall of ljónslappadrífa is his actual airy tread.
sunnudagur, september 25, 2005
fitchew (all these are names for the polecat)
fitch (pelt of same, or a brush made of the fur of same)
(Should you crave more information on the nomenclature of the polecat, a fascinating article by Duncan Brown in Mammal Review 32:2 (2002): 145-9 can be found here.)
sweetmart (the pine marten; I will ever after imagine this animal wearing cologne)
zorilla (an African relative of the weasel, one who looks more like the American skunk. I hope that someone out there is as pleased as I am to find that zorilla is a real word.)
laugardagur, september 24, 2005
fimmtudagur, september 22, 2005
Stop touching it. Close the drawer. Walk away. Walk back. Open the drawer. Look down at the whistle. Pick it up and register its weight. Put it back. Close the drawer.
Open it again. Take out the whistle and put it to your lips, not to play it but merely to feel the metal there. Do not play the whistle. But consider that if you did, you would not hear the piping note.
miðvikudagur, september 21, 2005
þriðjudagur, september 20, 2005
Or, such are the thoughts that might occur to the half-waking mind when that mind is pulled like a flopping fish from sleep at 4.00 AM by the insistent, slow, and not least loud clank and tap of the rising steam. The radiator in the next room becomes that bronze-headed drum, or perhaps the boat itself, of iron, like in a Russian fairytale, and that boat is the conveyance of sleep on the shining surface of the night. But, perversely, despite steady rowing by the crewmen of that great ship of sleep, you are yourself uncomfortably awake, and you remain so, considering that contradiction until the metallic drumbeat softens into a foghorn, and you are in Stöðvarfjörður or Truro before you know you are dreaming.
sunnudagur, september 18, 2005
laugardagur, september 17, 2005
The phrase halts and skips, the whole thing judders and squeaks out of me like the steam coming up through the pipes in the wee hours last night. It had jerked me awake again and again, first steam of the autumn, interrupting my dreams even as it soothed, invoking the memory of the restless old radiators of the house of childhood.
Do not ask me how to get to that place either -- the directions would be even less clear.
fimmtudagur, september 15, 2005
Then, in the forenoon, a casual glance out the window met with the sight of a young buck on the roof of the adjacent garage. He did not see me. He made a leggy clockwise circuit, sniffing the tar paper with unhurried interest, but, finding nothing compelling, then stepped off silently into the trees, vanishing in seconds. Perhaps he was disappointed not to have found it a two-deer garage.
miðvikudagur, september 14, 2005
Bara Ijosmyndari for the New York Times.Eru þeir að grínast?
Bara Ijosmyndari for the New York Times.
Nei, því miður ... svona standa orðin fyrir neðan myndunum í greininni "Iceland Woos America with Lamb and Skyr." Ekki beint ljóðræn heldur, þessi fyrirsögn. En hvað um það. Og ég mun komast yfir það, að sjálfasta Times stafar Þrír Frakkar með P-i, þó að hneykslandi sé að blað blaðanna í BNA skyldi ekki einu sinni setja th í stað þórnsins.
En hitt er ansi ljót mistök.
Auk þess að við sitjum uppi með ýmsar spurningar: Hver tók þessar myndir?
Bára ljósmyndari, Einhversdóttir?
Eða bara ljósmyndari . . . bara einhver ljósmyndari . . . ?
mánudagur, september 12, 2005
Part of what is so pleasing about onions when one is cooking and wielding the long vegetable knife oneself is that they are already sliced in one direction. That direction is concentric, but no matter. Dicing an onion still requires maybe a third fewer cuts than dicing almost anything else. If you have diced a lot of onions, you know this, and I have.
But I had not (or not often, or not recently) made these particular cuts through an onion, sliced it just this way. The internal geometry of an onion is complex and layered, and I thought it might reveal itself in a new way, perhaps a dramatically new way, sliced in this unfamiliar manner. I watched carefully. I did not notice anything very remarkable, but it is possible that I missed it.
laugardagur, september 10, 2005
It was her conception sheet, she said, and I understood that to be the sheet on which she had been conceived by her parents. I understood that it had been saved, decorated, given to her by her mother when she had married.
And then I wasn't talking to her anymore so much as seeing, first and briefly, her parents, a married couple from such a different age than the present one, and next and in more detail the society that saves and passes down conception sheets, that has, no doubt, a better, native word for them than that. A people who might have felt they knew with certainty on what sheet each child had been made. The men are away a great deal in seasonal labor, perhaps away in fishing camps, twelve to a hut and twelve to a boat, only home for brief periods. Their wives would know, would save the cloth and wash it, sit with the other women and talk while sanding the shell buttons and sewing them on.
föstudagur, september 09, 2005
"Eh, a kind of cavalry. Medium, I think."
"Sounds like dragon."
"Yeah, it does. I have no idea what the etymology is. Hang on. (typing) Here we go, it does come from dragon, in French. Dragoons were mounted musketeers, and the muskets belched smoke and flames and so were called dragons by the French. At least by one account."
"Oh, and it's also a verb. 'To subjugate by force,' as by sending a bunch of dragoons in, or simply 'to compel.' And in 1828 there was another sense: 'to persecute by abandoning to the rage of soldiers.' Clearly a case of verbing going on there."
"Verbing also being a case of verbing."
"Indeed. Wait, this is weird. Dragoon also appears in another 1828 definition, that of bidet."
"I learn that in 1828 a bidet was a small horse issued a dragoon to carry his baggage."
"Carry it to the latrine?"
"Ah, it makes perfect sense. Bidet is French for pony, from Old French bider, 'to trot', and the older type of bidet was meant to be straddled, rather like one would straddle a horse."
"Yeah, language is a funny thing."
"Sheds a whole new light on 'the trots.'"
(makes strangled noise)
fimmtudagur, september 08, 2005
To see a new, or rather old, use for stuðlaberg, try searching for pictures with the string "Nan Madol." It makes me wonder what other paths architecture in Iceland could have taken. What would Guðjón Samúelsson built, had he known of these antipodal islands?
þriðjudagur, september 06, 2005
Also that Luke 12:47-48 (in what edition, I have no idea) describes hell thusly:
That was the only light anyone ever saw in that place. The shore will be nearly gone, as the lake becomes full of the bodies of fallen angels and men, lapping close to the edge of the Bottomless Pit. If there are degrees of punishment as there are degrees of reward, then some will be cast on that narrow shore.
Not much better is Tacitus's description of the bank of the Sea of Judea, as translated by Thomas Gordon in 1737. It concludes with this note:
Moreover, into the sea of Judæa the river Belus discharges itself: The sands gathered at its mouth are, with a mixture of nitre, melted into glass. This is but a narrow shore, yet by such as are daily draining it of its sands, found to be inexhaustible.
Vergil's Æneid, book 4 (in translation by John Dryden), speaks of another land:
This little spot of land, which Heav’n bestows,
On ev’ry side is hemm’d with warlike foes;
Gætulian cities here are spread around,
And fierce Numidians there your frontiers bound;
Here lies a barren waste of thirsty land,
And there the Syrtes raise the moving sand;
Barcæan troops besiege the narrow shore,
And from the sea Pygmalion threatens more.
Propitious Heav’n, and gracious Juno, lead
This wand’ring navy to your needful aid:
How will your empire spread, your city rise,
From such a union, and with such allies?
Robert Louis Stevenson's "To all that love the far and blue" is cheerier, addressed to those who pursue the fleeing corners on foot---
Or, bolder, from the narrow shore
Put forth, that cedar ark to steer,
Among the seabirds and the roar
Of the great sea, profound and clear --
sunnudagur, september 04, 2005
The possible plots for narrative literary history can be reduced to three: rise, decline, and rise and decline. The reason for this is that the hero of a narrative literary history is a logical subject --- a genre, a style, the reputation of an author --- and the plots are limited to what actions or transitions can be predicated of such heroes. They cannot, for example, go on a quest or be tormented in a love triangle.
What a pity!
And imagine if this were not the case. In my mind's eye, I see Ibsen's Reputation as a Playwright engaged in a biting feud with the Deconstructionist Turn. It would be played out in all the papers with an occassional volley from the International Reception of Scandinavian Literature.
And there, the Romantic Poetry riding out in full armor to the rescue of the Late Gothic Novel, imprisoned in a distant tower by Post-War Psychoanalytic Fiction and his co-conspirator, Social Realism. He will be aided, perhaps, by the Debate on the True Authorship of Shakespeare's Plays.
So much potential. And to think that Mr. Perkins answers his own titular question in the negative.
So much uncertainty. The shop owner asked if we were looking for something specific, and we demurred, slunk out without buying anything, tails between our legs.
föstudagur, september 02, 2005
That the key to my memory of that southern city should have been drainage strikes me as sadly appropriate today. And it is not Reykjavík or Paris or the original Orleans that comes to mind, but Ys (or Is). There is a poem; here is its first verse:
miðvikudagur, ágúst 31, 2005
Instead they are in a straight-sided glass, covered in water and placed in the window where they can catch the light and shine more like they did where I found them, light að sunnan skimming the water and catching them broadside, making them flare like gems against the black pebbles. But this water is fresh. They do not smell of salt here, not any more than everything else does, of sweat, after a too-warm day.
There are other salty waters, it occurs to me. Amber washed up on northern beaches was called, in poetry, Freyja's tears. She had wept for her husband Óðr, who had gone away and never returned. Judging by the rest of the mythology, she got over it, but the world got amber for her heartbreak.
These pseudo-gems are not so precious as amber. They are, in fact, the smooth-polished garbage of a hard-drinking people, the thick bases of bottles scoured into lemon-drop shapes by basalt and waves. But then amber is mere tree sap. There should be some lofty story for these colored stones too, I think, some tragedy or some deed.
sunnudagur, ágúst 28, 2005
laugardagur, ágúst 27, 2005
And then the sun sweeps up and I'm off.
föstudagur, ágúst 26, 2005
I have been hearing these phrases as Thou art and Art thou? for a couple of weeks now. That is strange and new. It's not that I've only just recognized the cognates, either -- they were always fairly obvious -- but that they are hitting the ear in a new way, like fragments of early modern speech or of Amish dialogue. Except that they do not sound arch to me. Rather, I am hyperaware of the familiar register, that it is þú not þér, thou not you. That this is now the dominant register since sometime last century does not seem to matter. Þér (like vér) is moribund, good only for humor. Still, the echo of thou art cements þú in my mind as an intimate address. It's Thule familiaris, and we're á dús, we two.
fimmtudagur, ágúst 25, 2005
This was a strange experience. I grew up in a looking for Bobby Fischer world. Not that I personally was looking for him, not being a dedicated chess player. But the world was a certain way, Fischer was out there somewhere as a kind of mysterious guardian spirit of chess, and no one knew just where.
Now it seems we are in a rakst á Bobby Fischer á Hverfisgötu world.
It may help to know that Hverfisgata is the dope and hash street, the place to get stabbed over drugs if you're looking to do that sort of thing in Reykjavík (and in which case it is avisable to make a reservation). Seeing Bobby there, I did not recognize him until he was pointed out to me. He looked like every other slightly seedy fellow on Hverfisgata.
Mind you, the National Theater (booming 1930s architecture, 50% national romanticism and 50% fascistic federalism) is there too, and what used to be the library, now the Culture House (Þjóðmenningarhúsið), as well as a lovely older wood-frame building in which now resides the increasingly international International House (Alþjóðahúsið). There are basalt pillars set into the street between them. I was heading down towards Lækjargata and Bobby was coming up.
Of course, I grew up in a Geysislaus world as well, a world in which Geysir no longer erupted, only his little brother Strokkur. Strokkur I've seen go off many times, but Geysir never. Judging from old prints and travel descriptions, it was very impressive. Then in 2000 the earthquake hit on 17. July, while everyone was outside drinking the health of the nation, and Geysir began erupting again. Not often and not reliably, but still. Astonishing. It was as if an island full of dinosaurs had been discovered. Geysir að gjósa aftur! Better than coelocanths.
I am less thrilled about Mr. Fischer. I think he was maybe a better guardian spirit than anything. We already have sérvitringar on Hverfisgata.
miðvikudagur, ágúst 24, 2005
But today I learn something new, thanks to the new signs I find here and there, offering fróðleikar of various kinds. The stone itself, a great boulder, was brought here from the Faroe Islands. I am pleased to know that.
þriðjudagur, ágúst 23, 2005
With a forefinger, I reached to touch the chalky surface of one, expecting a cool, hard shell. But the egg proved yielding and leathery. At once my imagined bird grew scaley and basilisk-like, a claw on each wing and a whiplike tail, and I had almost become anxious that the animal would soon return to her clutch when I realized that I had found mushrooms.
mánudagur, ágúst 22, 2005
laugardagur, ágúst 20, 2005
föstudagur, ágúst 19, 2005
You might answer that the birds like them quite a lot. Some winged species seems to eat them, perhaps to the exclusion of all else, when possible. I have never seen it happen, but it must be so, for in summer every jutting stone in Iceland has an inky blue-black streak down one side or the other, just behind whatever ridge best presents itself as a perch. It is the veggjakrot of the avian race, graffiti illegible to us, yet unstudied by runologists and readers of hieroglyphs. If you yourself ate krækiber in sufficient quantities, you too could perhaps produce an ink of such enviable glossy hue, but even that would not endow you with the ability to read the writing of birds. Not even Sigurður Fáfnisbani could do that.
fimmtudagur, ágúst 18, 2005
From the north: ógilslegt
I confess to having coined this myself, upon having a certain gil or gully pointed out to me. It was indeed very unlike a gil for having been smoothed out and leveled in several distinct sections, an ógilslegt gil.
From the east: lágfota
"Short-legs," a very pleasing name for the vixen and a fitting one, if you have ever seen her glide over the ground.
From the south: draugasteinn
"Ghost-stone," the nativist word for chalcedony. I learned it in the East, but it was further south that I saw long veins of it shot through the basalt and scraped smooth by the course of the Svínafell glacier.
From the west (sem er í raun fyrir sunnan): grátberi
"Tears-bearer," one who brings tears, or brings them on. Compare vatnsberi (water-bearer), the designation for Aquarius, or tilberi (to-bearer), the milk-hare witches used to steal milk from other women's cows. I do not think it can be used poetically, of rain.
þriðjudagur, ágúst 16, 2005
Both falls at Núpsstaður were flying up into the clouds. On the other hand, the enormous rock that stands nearby on the cliffs has still not fallen and crushed the farm, as another prophecy says it must someday do, and so all things considered it is probably right and proper that everyone continue to go about his business as usual and not worry about the erratic behavior of waterfalls. The horses are completely unconcerned. They have all turned their blunt hind ends into the wind; all across Suðurland they stand facing westward with their forelocks flying over their heads.
mánudagur, ágúst 15, 2005
To see landscape any other way, to see it when it isn't being hresst og skemmtilegt, one has to be there. And isn't that the question, anyway, what it is like when the weather is not so fair? What it looks like after a restless night? Where do the clouds form? Where does the road get slick and dangerous? Does the ground fog pile up into unexpected and beautiful shapes? Where? Does the fading light slice though it all, striking a peak, a high snowfield, a falling beck, blinding you, making you suck in your breath?
sunnudagur, ágúst 14, 2005
A black horse in a nearby paddock whinnies, and she looks up expectantly. Somewhere else nearby, a dog cries. It is a painful sound. Her heart thumps a little faster, and her throat tightens. Walking away now, with eyes downcast once again, she sees before her a round stone, green as the sea, a little smaller than her fist. She smiles, relieved, and picks it up. It feels good in her hand, almost warm.
Driving out, she passes an old man on a bicycle, heading for one of the outer farms. A black dog is bounding through the grass to meet him.
föstudagur, ágúst 12, 2005
In this dimness last night at eleven I find myself in the square downtown, leaning against the pediment of a statue and talking about whether there have always been odd folk and sérvitringar in this town and why. Behind my interlocutor, on the grass lit obliquely by lights on the footpaths, a bushy-haired man strolls aimlessly, stepping now forward, now right, now back, and it is several minutes before I realize that he is out to air his rabbit.
The rabbit is a dainty black creature (or appears so in the low light - perhaps it was brown, and perhaps there is a whole vocabulary of rabbit color-terms in this language that I have never learned), ears erect, hopping and sniffing on the cool green turf, allowing himself to be herded, gently, by where his master sets each of his feet, now before him, now to one side.
A late summer night is perhaps the only time one can safely air one's rabbit (black, inquisitive) in the town square, let him lollop to and fro without attracting the unwanted attention of passers -by. One's rabbit might be quite a private thing. Still, I imagine it is very good for the rabbit, who must be an apartment dweller without easy access to clean-smelling growing things. It would probably good for everyone to get out now and then of a still, dim evening, and let each of our small, black animals stretch its legs and sniff the air.
No, wait, wait ... that is another lake. But it is beautiful here, under a mossy mountain like a giant's door jamb, a gatepost before the path to the plains.
miðvikudagur, ágúst 10, 2005
Some things are exactly the same, but I had somehow managed to forget all about them. The screens of my bank's cash machines, for example, still flash up a super low-tech graphic of an abacus while counting out the bills. This is such genius (how could a high-tech graphic of an abacus ever be appropriate, I ask?) that I cannot think how it ever slipped my mind.
Some things are always changing but always in the same way. The half-grown gulls bobbing on the water, floating on the weed between the stout basalt pillars, no longer chicks but not yet fully come into the tailored white and black plumage of adulthood, are one of those things.
endur (ýmis konar)
mávar og mávar og aftur mávar
I have not seen the lóa, but that is not her fault. And I have seen starlings, but I heard them before I saw them, and at first they sounded like squirrels.
þriðjudagur, ágúst 09, 2005
mánudagur, ágúst 08, 2005
sunnudagur, ágúst 07, 2005
laugardagur, ágúst 06, 2005
fimmtudagur, ágúst 04, 2005
She settles on something just to be done with it, gives the clerk her cell number, and jams the slip of paper he hands her into her front pocket, next to the film cannister, now empty of film. The pips of the pomegranate rattle in the black plastic as she walks out into the sunlight.
This evening, inside, gathered like grizzlies at the falls, we slapped anecdotes out of the flowing wine like king salmon, roaring like lions at our own wit.
þriðjudagur, ágúst 02, 2005
I snap it shut and heft it again (it is hefty), pretending to weigh my options, but I'm fooling myself.
Swinging it up onto my shoulder, I set off again homeward, already picturing how I will rub it down with a damp rag and how well it will get on with my other books.
mánudagur, ágúst 01, 2005
laugardagur, júlí 30, 2005
She feels like Pandora in reverse, a packrat of mythic scale. Today several more of them appear, heavy, dense. What could be so important that she bothered to pack it or them in these boxes and haul them here, yet so unessential to daily life that it has not yet been missed? She reaches for the knife with one hand and slices one open, removes its contents, and puts them in their proper places, or places that will pass for proper. Old notebooks half-filled with notes, fiction purchased in distant airports, these are set on a lower shelf; audio cassette tapes - those relics! - stowed in a drawer; whimsical hats stacked above the woolens and foul-weather gear. The empty cardboard she slashes again and folds down, turns into a satisfyingly flat thing with no secrets in it. The activity has a pleasing forward momentum, a feeling of getting things done.
The third box beckons, and she reaches again for the knife, slips the point into the translucent tape and draws it down, down, and it bursts open at her. She is blinded, arms held before her face by reflex, the knife forgotten, and when she opens her eyes to look out past her wrists, she sees the room full of small birds. They wheel in a mass in the cramped space and flow like smoke out the open window. Her skin tingles every place their feathers brushed by her.