mánudagur, október 31, 2005

minding your peas

An unexpected pedagogic moment arises over dinner, and I find myself called upon to explain the origins of Halloween to a nine-year-old. I say something fairly accessible about intercalation and time-reckoning but struggle a little with expressing the notion of liminal anxiety and how it might attach to a period that was neither summer nor winter. The mixing of categories might be disturbing, but how to explain that? Then it comes to me, the perfect example: it's like how on your dinner plate the peas and carrots must not be allowed to intermingle.

Ah, no, of course not, of course not! That would be terrible.

fimmtudagur, október 27, 2005


Walking through the court district, I noted three bail bond companies.

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


The first rain of the season has hit, slowing everything down, making it gray and flannel-clad. It's long past the first night frost, of course, back in September, but that was non-event, the result of turning the refrigerator dial too far. I was rewarded the next morning with an icy pitcher of water, a pint of frozen milk, and a shocked-seeming summer squash, frozen half a centimeter deep.

mánudagur, október 24, 2005


Coming out of the theater, I spot a bird flapping lazily below the streetlights, and I wonder what a gull is doing in town at this hour. It alights on a parked car. Passing closer by, I see it is a heron. Two more perch nearby on a streetsign and a string of lights hanging between the trees. One is a lesser blue heron. The other two I recognize, but I cannot remember their names.

sunnudagur, október 23, 2005

önnur saga


Siggi. Hello.

It's good to see you.

Likewise. Opal?

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?

I'm okay.

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

mál draumanna

I think I was in Finland.

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.

ofan skýjum hló

Never gets old, moonrise.

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


The idea is to make the face compelling, and the key is the eyes. The mouth allows for great flexibility, and the nose is largely optional, but the eyes, the eyes have it. By the end of the evening, there should be a whole row of staring eyes, flickering from within, arresting the viewer with the deceptively simple geometry that the brain understands as a face and therefore worthy of wary attention.

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


I was moved and uplifted by Le peuple migrateur when I watched it on the largest screen of Háskólabíó. Occassionally I visit the website for the pleasure of tracing the flight patterns of particular species on the flash-animated migration map. Even though my beloved kría, the arctic tern, is mis-dubbed 'arctic gull,' this little error does not detract too much from the pleasure of reexperiencing some of the lofty, giddy awe the film inspires. I share with Perrin, the director, great admiration for the feathered tribes and their feats of travel and endurance.

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


Construction at the University seems never-ending. Buildings going up, buildings coming down, ever a new detour or a last-minute room change. Temporary classrooms for some of the displaced students have been erected on one of the plazas. There is only just room for these wooden structures, for a spot near the middle of the plaza is already inhabited by a bronze statue of a smilodon, jaws open, one forepaw raised. The builders of the temporary classrooms clearly did their best to make the most of the space available, with the result that the outer wall passes within centimeters of the sabertooth's upraised claws and bared fangs.

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


At wood s lot I stumble across a link to the photography of Edward Burtynsky. There, under breaking ground and further under tailings I confront 11 stunning images of mine-related devastation. Here is one. Simultaneously, I have the new realization that some of my favorite places (Kerið, Moðruvellir, Námuskarð, Vítið, &c.) have that same beauty, with no industry in sight. The resemblance extends beyond tailings. Rauðhólar, always strange, now clearly resembles not just a stranding (skibsbrud) but shipbreaking (skibsophug).

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?

að hluti til

This evening's cats are partial. That is, I encountered only parts of them. I presume them to be, in fact, whole cats extending beyond the limits of my immediate perception.

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

andre ganger

Sometimes it looks like this. Sometimes the door is further away, other times closer.


In the mornings the light glints off all the strands of the web and shines through the legs of the spider. (I have taken photographs of this effect, but I am being coy and I do not intend to show them to you.)

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


Found these and thought they might appeal.

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


I had forgotten this word:

But I remembered it again today, and I am glad, because it had been one of my favorites. Imagine - this was what English-speakers had called paradise.

áttandi, tíundi

October again, and again the weird sense of displacement, the feeling that things are slightly off. It is, after all, the eighth month, number ten. The slippage in the numeric portion of the calendar points, for me, at the somber anniversaries on the march in this part of the year, at intercalary chaos in general, at some vague dread of having lost track somehow and being too late.

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've been getting more familiar with my neighbors.

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.
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