þriðjudagur, maí 31, 2005

post prandium

"Did you get something to eat?"

"Yeah, I had a burrito."


"Burrito. It should be a verb."

"You think? Burrito, burritas, burritat; burritamus, burritatis, burritant."


"Burritabam, burritabas, burritabat, burritabamus, burritabatis, burritabant."

"What about the passive?"

"Burritor. Burritaris. Wait, am I making that up?" (Reaches for Moreland & Fischer on a nearby shelf. Flips a few pages.) "No, that's right. Burritor, burritaris, burritatur, burritamur, burritamini, burritantur. You are burritoed."

"I am."

"Let's go."

Exeunt omnes.

great big fishes

I once saw a Mola mola from on board a smallish off-shore boat. We were out to see whales. The sunfish was probably out slurping up jellyfish at the surface of the water. They do that, apparently. We stood at the rail and peered down at the enormous fish hanging in the water scant meters off the side as we listened to the guide on the loudspeaker tell us all about these animals and their jellyfish-eating habits. The fish itself, meanwhile, ceased all such activity, preferring to let itself float up parallel with the surface of the water, the better to turn one great, alien, blue-ringed eye upon us up in the boat, looking down at it.

mánudagur, maí 30, 2005


As predicted, the ice has moved back in over everything, great fields and sheets of it. Today I've been drilling cores. I pull them up, careful not to fracture them, and count off the striations, compare them to the charts, find the tell-tale dated events (landnámslag, the Hardest Winter, things like that), and enter any new data back into the system. The trick is doing it before they melt.

föstudagur, maí 27, 2005

þú segir ekki

Fardagar. They're supposed to be around now sometime, the days when the non-landed could shift their legal affiliation from one farm to another, one bóndi to another. Or that was the way the Commonwealth ran.

Not so different here and now. Moving trucks everywhere, cast-off IKEA furniture lining the streets. And I suppose blessuð krían has long since been on the move.

miðvikudagur, maí 25, 2005


Anti-intellectualism, that scourge of the American psyche, is clearly in mid up-swing. Anti-rationalism and anti-scientism is visible everywhere, spectacularly so in efforts to block the teaching of evolution in public school. It is all very embarrassing for the reality-based among us.

It can make one start to wish for another Sputnik, another event so shocking to that same American psyche that it would spur another serious push for better and more competitive science education. This happened, after all, in the wake of Sputnik. Something similar now would be infinitely better for everybody than the ridiculous posturings of 'Intelligent Design' and the other evolution-only-a-theory folks. More critical thought and better understanding of the material world is needed, not less. Another wake-up call is in order.

Then one comes back to reality and feels suddenly guilty for wishing for disaster, recalls that the planes have already hit the buildings and the cloud of ash risen over southern Manhattan and then been blown away. The shock came and went, and still the Sputnik moment did not arrive, or, at least, the devaluing of science and the legacy of the Enlightenment only continues.

This, I think, is the unforeseen consequence of the new age of asymmetic warfare, the legacy of the low-tech attack. The detonator in those planes was not a gadget but the absolute faith that allowed the human pilots to steer dead into the glass towers. There has been a Sputnik moment, but the tech and arms race embarked upon recognizes faith as the ultimate weapon, and the tactical goal seems be to out-believe the enemy.

This is very dangerous. Not that belief cannot be part of a very effective military technology. Clearly, it can. But the trigger mechanism (didn't anyone notice, in this Sputnik moment?) is suicide.

þriðjudagur, maí 24, 2005

rura barnið

Found the second verse of the lullaby today. Hadn't known it had a second verse. Hadn't ever heard it as a child. The first verse I recall. Also the way I puzzled, new to language in general, over the syntax; wondered why that word stood in a place in the third line that was unlike the other places I'd heard that word when people spoke. Old grammar, I realize now. I remember, too, the names for the colors of beasts, learning them, latching onto them as if I expected sustenance.

mánudagur, maí 23, 2005


Tuning out much talk of the Diety, the eyes slide upward and left away from the altar to the wall of stained glass. It is blue and bright. The shadow of a bird (a crow?) moves across the panes and vanishes.

sunnudagur, maí 22, 2005


Today I offer a bilingual nýyrði: skemmtunarþröskuldur. In English this should be the entertainment threshold. This may not be a phrase you are familiar with, but I wager as you will recognize the concept once it is explained. This is best accomplished with the use of examples.

To wit: Some people naturally possess a low entertainment threshold. You know them. They are lucky; they laugh easily and at things that may, arguably, not actually be that funny. They need little to have a good time. The rest of us may have some success lowering our own, sometimes inconveniently high entertainment threshold through sheer good will, the keeping of very late hours, or the application of alcohol. Have you never tried to retell a joke or anecdote that really had been terribly funny in the wee hours of the night before, only to have it ring utterly hollow even in your own ears? You have, you know you have, and so then you have experienced the vaguaries of the shifting skemmtunarþröskuldur.

However, staying up late does not ensure a lágur skemmtunarþröskuldur. Indeed, even when both long hours and liberal libations have dropped the entertainment threshold to sub-basement levels, frequently there is a point past which it starts, inexorably, to rise again. One may not notice it at first. One may, in fact, not notice it before one feels oneself knock uncomfortably against it or even later. It is past this point that one will cease having fun.

Experience has shown that it pays to cultivate the ability to detect the first brush against the rising skemmtunarþröskuldur. This allows one to take the decision to go home immediately. Some people are better at this than others. There is probably a large environmental component in the development of this aptitude. I say this recalling the chaos in Reykjavík nightlife that followed the lifting of the 3-o'clock closing rule. Hordes of merrymakers, no longer forced from the bars at three a.m. að gömlum sið, sat still trying to make merry as late as six or seven. But alas, they had long since crossed, without feeling it, back over their own skemmtunarþröskuldar, and they sat miserable and painfully drunk in the morning light, wholly unable to skemmta sér, and seemingly unable to form (independently and without outside stimulus) the idea of going home already.

This was now several years ago, and I believe I have seen improvement in the mean ability of the average Reykvíkingur to call it a night before altogether losing the ability to enjoy oneself, but it has been slow going.

föstudagur, maí 20, 2005


Baroque horns and singing from over the hill, many voices, and in the summer-seeming air, you think of the Sunday bells of Háteigskirkja. Now the voices sing hallelujah, hallelujah with a plaintive fall of notes, a minor key, a rising quaver. Háteigskirkja vanishes from the mind's eye, replaced with the thought of haugfólk at worship. They use the same book, after all. Well, the first part, anyway.


I hope I do not seem, in the wake of the last post, the enemy of nýyrði. I am anything but. The coining of new and useful words is a noble pursuit, an íþrótt in the old sense. The yrði part of the Háfrónska project is one I can get behind; it's the hreinsun I have trouble with.

Also in the wake of the last post I should say that sæla is a perfectly good alternative to blessa (though I personally would miss saying sæll og blessaður, perhaps I am longwinded). Due credit should go to the Háfrónska folk, who note this on their list of High Fronian Christian Terminology. Further, I offer congratulations on the coining of Gamla Sáttmálsbók for Old Testament. I don't think this could ever fly, as it is too confusing in the context of Icelandic history, but the implicit equation of Covenant with Sáttmál and thus Jehovah with the ancient kings of Norway produces a pleasurable sensation of unexpected connection -- like a good joke, and I do not mean that to be niðrandi.

On the same list, for Christendom or Christianity, in standard Icelandic kristindómur, Timbur-Helgi offers Sauðerni. How to render that back into English .... It's really hard to say. But it's brilliant.

Til hamingju: hreinasta snilld, bara.

fimmtudagur, maí 19, 2005

adventus josephi


Who has sailed up to the Narrow Shore but Timbur-Helgi himself, as can be seen in the comments to the immediately previous post. Eins og sæmir góðum gesti og komumanni ber hann með sér gjafir: fleira orð yfir krókódílum. More words for crocodiles are always vel þegin. But I have to take issue with the complaint that dreki in bakkadreki is a loanword, and therefore undesirable.

Dreki? Yes, the word is borrowed in from Latin draco, draconis, but long, long ago. It is the word for a longship, a sleek ship of war with a shallow draught and gaping head on the prow. Medievals used this word of their ships. Perhaps I am missing something, but I have trouble reconciling the idea of a Háfrónska that excludes medieval words.

What about the word kær (ON kærr)? It's a medieval French borrowing, from the same root as cheri. Of course one can use ást instead of kærleikur when speaking of love, but all things in kær- retain that air of courtliness and chivalry from medieval French Romance, something altogether missing from the hearty ást.

What about blessa (ON bleza)? Greetings and benedictions become a mite more difficult without the verb to bless. Are we really meant to say hello by expressing the wish that our interlocutors be sprinkled with water (as I vaguely recall being done in the sort of Viking-heavy fantasy novels in which Þórr and Óðinn are invoked in every other line of overwrought dialogue)? The 'heathen baptism' (ausa barn vatni) may not have have existed, and if it did, it too may have been a borrowing in in imitation of Christian baptism. Hardly the way to promote this dýrslega hreint tungumál, Háfrónska, I think.

Neither am I convinced that replacing vertu/komdu blessaður with vertu ausinn would not result in misunderstandings stemming from the other senses of ausa, which include to make water and to lash out with the hind hooves. Does this not open the door for what ought to be a friendly greeting being confused with a sentiment more akin to may you be dribbled by a donkey? Hardly conducive to peace at the Alþingi or in social interactions almennt.

Furthermore, shall we take Timbur-Helgi's lead and replace foreign personal names with clever nativist constructions? Timbur-Helgi (timber-saint) for Joseph or Jósef is certainly clever, but Jósef does not loom so overlarge in Icelandic cultural history. What about the Irish names? Should they be retired from service as well? Think carefully, for this would mean losing Kormákr and losing Njáll. What would we then call that greatest of the íslendingasögur, Brennu-Njáls saga?

miðvikudagur, maí 18, 2005

17. mai

Gratulerer med dagen.

(Jeg beklager, jeg beklager så mye.)

Ellers er det en god dag å være en smule fyllesyk på.

þriðjudagur, maí 17, 2005

sing it

Everyone has a story.

Tonight it's the man who recalled to us his memory of the military helicopter drawing overhead (ordered there by the governor), blades thundering above the students as they scattered, and dropping a payload of tear gas. He remembers being the last off the plaza, running and stumbling as he ran, catching himself on the heels of his hands and finding himself face-to-face with a copy of Kristin Lavransdatter. He picked it up, lungs and eyes full of gas. There was shooting. None of it fatal, but apparently it afforded plenty of time for catching up on Norwegian fiction.

mánudagur, maí 16, 2005


This morning there were egrets, cormorants, ducks, gulls on the water. This noon: a lot of ink and paper. I have pawed through the tangle of silver in my jewelry box a few times this evening, and now I am thinking about sleep. I may dream of owls.

laugardagur, maí 14, 2005


In passing:

A charming entry at Crooked Timber on footnotes and literature, with references & annotations.

[Would that I were not too busy to follow up on all of them immediately, due to an emergent, local reference-wrangling situation. -Ritstj.]

föstudagur, maí 13, 2005


I am surprised by unfamiliar cars lining the street today. They seem to have descended from the heavens this morning, while my attention was elsewhere. The usual cars on these blocks are dark, several are black. They are not always in the same places every day, but they are recognizable group, shifting more in configuration than in membership. These are shiny and white, as rentals tend to be, with the rounded corners common to newer models of sedan. They most resemble a flock of herring gulls flown in from the seaside, displacing the local pigeons.

fimmtudagur, maí 12, 2005


Behold! The Hat has stumbled upon a new Icelandic málhreinsun site run in large part, as was Málþvottahúsið, by a Dutch-speaking enthusiast of Icelandic. The seemingly paradoxical creation of háfrónska by Lowlanders should presumably not trouble us. It does not trouble the málsmiður himself.

The site is good fun. The names for animals are of course my favorite part, and I am glad to see that the tapir has been dubbed ranasvín, though all the misgivings previously stated in connection with crocodiles still hold. And where are the coati? I am sure I saw them called, in television subtitles, nefbirnir, but I have been unable to confirm this.

Much of the propagandistic stuff to be found under 'Art' triggers my allergy to the worship of the trinity of clean-pure-native, but the image of Jónas Hallgrímsson and Fjallkonan astride a motorhjól (afsakið! hjólfákur) is helvíti svalt ..... jafnvel fokking kúl.


Introductions are so awkward. I tend to put them off until the last possible minute if I cannot avoid them entirely. Part of the awkwardness stems, I think, from my knowing too much about everyone involved. What would be appropriate to bring out and lay down as that bridge to communication, the point of entry? Really I most prefer to duck away on some imagined errand at the crucial moment and allow the parties in question to sort it all out on their own. It's always pleasant to return to their already having done so, now moved on to smiling and conversing.

I'm tempted to do that now. I could pop out for a scoop of icecream and wait, looking at my watch, for things to fall out in my absence. I imagine chapter I being too shy to put out a hand, but chapter II is a more confident type, sure to start things off, and chapter V is too rough-hewn in all ways for any shyness, almost gruff, really, but makes up for polish with well-meaning directness. Chapters III and IV would allow themselves to be drawn out, and (I happen to know) they all of them have so much in common that they'd be sure to find a suitable subject in no time. No more than a quarter of an hour, I figure, and I could turn the key in the lock and enter to find all already on good terms, chatting and laughing at each other's jokes, and no further introduction necessary.

miðvikudagur, maí 11, 2005


As the sun sets, it looks like there are faerie lights hanging in the branches outside, but it is only the darkening glass reflecting the image of the little bulbs in hanging in the bedroom, behind me. After dark, the scent of an agitated skunk somewhere in the neighborhood floats in the open window, a familiar smell like rubber or nailpolish or burning.

þriðjudagur, maí 10, 2005

noch einmal

There's that cat again, the calico that lies on the thin iron of the ramp's railing, stretched out like a gymnast on a balance beam, even thus stretched out retaining a bunched and fuzzy muscularity. I've seen her before and scratched her ears and read her glinting name tag, so I do not have to read it again now to know that she is called Déjà.

laugardagur, maí 07, 2005

dinner theater

Diner 1: Oh look! They have arctic char listed with the catch of the day, the best fish in the world.

Diner 2: Really? Arctic char? That really is the best fish in the world.

The Chorus: Best fish in the world? Artic char?

Diner 1: Oh yes, arctic char is absolutely--

Diner 2: --the best fish in the world.

The Chorus: (in wonderment) The best fish in the world!

Member of the Chorus, a Dane: Is that ishavsrøye?

Diner 1: I think so.

The Chorus: (with rising excitement) Arctic char!

Diner 2: The best fish in the world.

All: Artic char!

Diners 1 & 2: The best fish in the world.

[A waitress approaches]

Diner 2: Miss, could you bring us some arctic char?

Diner 1 and the Chorus: The best fish in the world!

fimmtudagur, maí 05, 2005


This is not the big spring thaw, just a little one. The drifts of paper change shape but do not disappear. They slide around a little, they shrink a bit. The landscape is not radically altered, but it changes. I do some shovelling and some shuffling, minor digging out. I eye the big glaciers but leave them be.

Everything will freeze up again, go to slush again, be underfoot and yet also overhanging, and I will swear at it. That is to come. Right now there is a moraine of grit on the floor. I get the broom.

Sweeping the floor slick again, I feel like a curling player. I have never been on curling ice, never touched a stone, but I remember from some distant point in childhood that the ones with the brooms are sweepers and the captain is the skip.

miðvikudagur, maí 04, 2005


It isn't the car pulling right that wakes me up. I've already been blinking in and out sometime before sunrise, with the light changing and the smell of the air going from nighttime to daytime. Hearing Elvis saying something to Killer or else talking to himself. I'm not really awake yet, but it's like I've been watching a slide show, slides going by of the road, the desert, Elvis driving, the sky, peach pit on the dashboard. So I've seen the clouds go blue and then yellow, sun lower and then higher, seen a bit of the sort of signage that crops out by the roads near little towns. Then it was like a longer pause between slides, black screen, me dropping back off again, but not deep, because there were still some white clouds.

But when the front wheels pull way, way to the right, then I get awake really fast and grab the wheel and haul it around like a tuning peg. Not so hard as it might sound, because I'm already halfway across the driver's seat -- I fell that way when the car cut over -- and the road is totally empty, and so I have time to get my legs untangled and over the hump and my feet on the pedals. My hands are shaking, though, and I can't hear the engine over my heart thumping.

The town rolls up pretty fast and the first thing is the filling station. It's a couple of pumps outside of a diner, a handful of cars and pickups parked out front. I pull in off to one side and get out, I don't need to look in the back seat. I just go straight in. There's a long counter, and I pick a stool and put myself on it. The coffee comes without my having to say anything, guy behind the counter just flips the cup over and pours. I order some eggs and toast and look around. The grill's over by the wall. Over by the register there's a framed picture, a photo of the King. It's autographed. That makes me smile. I put plenty of Tabasco on the eggs and sip the coffee. I'm not rushing. When I'm done I pay up with a good tip plus some for gas.

I'm coming out again and digging the keys out of my pocket when I look over the road and see a dog looking back at me before he turns and jogs off into the weeds. He was there just a second. He looked a little like Killer, but you know it could have been a coyote.

þriðjudagur, maí 03, 2005


Driving in the dark, stars overhead. Shapes are going by the side. Cactus, maybe. Sometimes things moving. It's hard to see what. Elvis with his hands on the wheel staring out over the hood to where the headlights are showing just a bit of the road ahead. It's strange to see him without his sunglasses on. He looks pretty near as old as he's got to be, now. I suppose that makes sense.

I'm in the front seat again, all slunk down with the guitar in my hands, not playing melody anymore really, but fooling with the strings and making noise. If I take a tuning peg and just haul on it good and thumb the string I get a nice, long, bent sound, almost not even a note, and I hit it a few times, hard, and I'm starting to warm up to it, but right then Killer howls along. He's right behind me, and the hairs on my neck stand up. I thought he was asleep, probably he had been asleep, but I don't want to hear him make that lonely sound in my ear again, so I put my fingers over the strings and just sit quietly in the dark.

sunnudagur, maí 01, 2005

'oss 'oss whee 'oss

Would that we had woken up in Padstow:

Rise up all you good folk
All out of your beds,
For summer is a-come in today,
Your chamber shall be strewed

with the white rose and the red,
In the merry morning of May.

O, where are the young men
that now here should dance?
For summer is a-come in today,
O, some they are in England
and some they are in France
In the merry morning of May.
Hvaðan þið eruð