föstudagur, desember 30, 2005


I have a black pot of white tea. The room still smells, faintly, of ginger, from a bout of morning baking. The sky is white, the hill green and black except where yellow bamboo cuts upward from the fenceline. Without meaning to echo it, I have lined up tapers on the sill, all of them yellow too.

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.

eldur og gler

A book tells me that the reflection of the fire in the dark glass of the windows, seen more faintly and as if it were outside, leaping eeriely in time with the fire in the hearth, was once called witch-fire by some. It strikes me as a good name, but I am not fearful of witches. It was probably an unnerving name to those who used it. The book too suggests that people did not like to see it, that they covered the windows against the dark, the cold, and also the illusion of mysterious burning on the snow around the house.

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


An island in the sound in someone else's North, not my own. An unfamiliar but pleasing strand, littered with white and purple shells and strewn with weed like black magnetic tape, cluttered with drifted timber from the forests of pine and fir. The stones are black and green and some quartz-translucent, grown green with algae and mosses. Some of them, I am nearly sure, are basalt shot with crystal, the old, cold sputterings of nearby volcanoes. Others are like the blue-green rock of Austurlandið.

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

1133 - 1193

Deus qui hodiernam diem sacratissimam nobis in beati thorlaci confessoris tui atque pontificis solempnitate tribuisti. adesto propicius ecclesie tue precibus; ut cuius gloriatur meritis muniatur suffragijs.
Og góði guð, bjarga oss frá skötunni.

fimmtudagur, desember 22, 2005


This café used to be a semi-regular hangout, but my patterns of moving through the day have changed, and it has changed owners several times. It is no longer familiar.

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.


Striding purposefully stationward and past a telephone pole, a homemade poster catches her eye. She is in a hurry. Her eye skips over it, catching only the first line and part of the last: FOUND DOG and then If this was your dog ...

þriðjudagur, desember 20, 2005


She dreams of winter woods, an icy pond, a remembered house, a pregnant friend. She sees a fox off through the trees. Its body is black, but its head is red. Then it is on the road. It has become a monster, like a child's drawing of a wolf. It menaces them.

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

níu vikna

Little black animal, radio-array ears sitting too large on either side of her big-eyed head, upper body still all a-fuzz with kitteny down, lower legs and feet getting the gloss and sleekness of guard hairs: she doesn't quite match. Running, her hind feet seem all but about to overtake her forefeet, apt to send her bouncing off the chairlegs like a rubberband in an animated short. Walking, she steps with a mix of care and glee, jerky like a kid in rubber boots and pajamas, let out to splash in the puddles of a wet morning after a stormy night. Everything must be glistening for her, breaking the light in zany ways, trailing motes and stars.

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


"So it has to be a verbal root. The question is what that root means."

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.


Passing a sidewalk cart selling churros (snakey, ribbed, fried), I find myself sniffing the air in expectation of the smell of roasted, sugared nuts. It is a Copenhagen holiday smell and a Reykjavík-aspiring-to-Copenhagenhood holiday smell. I once encountered a cloud of it while exiting Kringlan on Þorláksmessa, discovered that the mall had stationed there a girl with a cart selling varme nødder. I exclaimed, as did my companion, and we exclaimed again when the girl responded in unmistakable københavnsk. We were very impressed with the commitment to authenticity: not merely roasted nuts but an actual Danish girl to sell them to you. Perhaps it was merely Kringlan aspiring to be Strøget, but my companion bought a little paper cone of them and munched happily as we treaded across the car park with our last-minute purchases.

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


Last night's performance had an intermission.

Act 1

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.

Act 2

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


Up and up and up. A walk in the dark, uphill, a climb in a winter night barely chill enough to recall summer night elsewhere. If it were only a touch more brisk she might imagine she were far to the North, in August, but even then it would be lighter, wouldn't it? There would be that suspect glow at the southern horizon even if the Aurora were still flaring green in the northern sky. Still, she is oddly disoriented.

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


It's really almost too tasteful to be called kitsch, but I expect that the little Danish cut-paper heart with the wee cut-paper evergreen sprig counts, hanging on a gold thread from a nail. In any case it is overpowered by the rest of the decor, little of it seasonal.

þriðjudagur, desember 06, 2005

þrjár könnur

I was about to make myself some tea when I realized I was unsure which pot to use. The black one would undoubtedly impart a solid, earthy flavor, and that could be just the thing before putting shoulder to the wheel. But then again the red pot would probably brew up a bright-tasting cup, good for keemun and for feeling ready to wage war on the projects of the day. On the other hand, the white pot might suit a delicate silver-tip or an unrolled leaf, a more refined and patrician taste suited to surveying the yet-undone tasks with regal detachment, waving imperiously in their general direction with the unoccupied, right hand, and declaring that they will be accomplished in due course.

Where is Georges Dumézil? I am sure there will be enough for two.

mánudagur, desember 05, 2005

boxer, boxer, schnauzer

Through the glass wall of the café I see the car pull up. It is bubble-like and silver, one of the redesigned Volkswagens. A young woman is driving. A gray-haired man is in the passenger seat. She parts, they get out, get themselves coffee in paper cups, cross back over the street to sit on the bench in the sunlight. I can see them past the parked car.

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

við hina tjörn

cormorants, black, in the hundreds, sitting upright on the semicircle of bobbing white floats


Driving over the bridge, there are geese in the distance and cranes up close. The geese are high, high up. They are flapping south, jostling with each other for the prime spots in the flock's slipstream. They are so high up that their bodies are invisible; only the wings can be seen.

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


Last year:

traffic flickering all the way down Hringbraut

This year:

flute music
yoghurt cake
surprisingly many trees turned brilliantly red

föstudagur, desember 02, 2005


Pouring rain, early afternoon, all the electric lights flicker and then come back up. Out the window something flares, a pink fireball in the grayness. I get out of my chair. I am hoping to see it better, but it is gone before I am fully standing, and I cannot tell just where it had been, never mind what.

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


Reading a line in Óláfs saga helga K. 106 my eye skips, and for a moment I think Snorri has written about an early eleventh-century famine of squirrels. I am wrong, of course. It is merely an everyday grain shortage, but the idea sticks in my mind.

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.
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