mánudagur, júlí 31, 2006


Then there is that other thing, when the three lowest ribs on each side spring loose from your sternum and flail outward like desperate fingers or the arms of a magnificent crab. Your jaw drops open in sympathy and surprise, and you look about yourself in the impossible hope that your eye will fall on something you could seize with both hands and stuff into that horrible gape to keep your lights and vitals from dropping out.

That you would never have imagined on any summer evening, however crushingly beautiful.

gamli elskhuginn sem aldrei sagðist elska þig og mun aldrei segja það

Not to give Sigurrós too much credit, but you finally felt something while hearing their music. It helped that you were outdoors on a strangely warm, late summer night, Hallgrímskirkja a dagger in the lace agate sky, the sun neither neither up nor quite disappeared, the air sharp with green grass trampled underfoot by the placid wool-clad herd. The murmur could have been part of the composition. Hljóð. Hljótt. Hljóð.

It feels like a cool hand closing around your descending aorta, that great conduit of blood. It doesn't stop the flow entirely, but it you realize that it could, and it is as if you found yourself standing at the edge of an abyss, newly aware that you could, someday, fall.

You've felt it before. You felt it sidle by years ago at another concert in Oslo, in a crowd with X-rays of people in motion projected on a giant screen. Then it was just a tug at that unsung, bowed muscle that works your lungs. It was a foretaste, an intimation, long before you ever set foot here, in this place.

You've felt it at a choral mass for the dead (even before anyone had died), and upon seeing shocking white peaks over a winter-bound city, and upon seeing birds rise into the air. You've felt it here, every time, sooner or later, and with some regularity on such clear, mild, late-summer evenings.

sunnudagur, júlí 30, 2006


Do not underestimate the sense of dislocation and that attaches to realizing that the end of the month has come and also that there is no reason to think about paying rent. No need to find the checkbook, locate a stamp, or make panicked online transfers. No need. You hold no lease at the moment, and you do not have a key to anything.

You might fight this sensation by plunking yourself down on a bench by the seaside and sketching distant mountains. The tide between you will rise and fall, but the jagged horizon stays blessedly still.

föstudagur, júlí 28, 2006


Amorous oystercatchers seen near the busstop. Unusually few ducklings on the Tjörn (though I have not noticed exceptionally fat gulls). We are past the really intense part of the tern season, when they dive crazily at your head. Eiders on the anchor chains at the harbor. A sandpiper. The standard helping of geese. An immature black-headed gull swooping over the line for hotdogs.

I miss the whistling swans. I do not know where they are. Tomorrow I will go out to the headland and look for them.

aftur og fram

Into the transparent blue in a new, sleek skin and the feel of the water holding her up is like the embrace of an old lover. Clouds scud past overhead. Five kilos heavier but not a pound weaker in the force of each stroke. Push off from the bank on each turn, satisfied with the perfect length, the right hand comes down on the tiled edge just when it ought to. Turn and glide out again.

On the deck taka nokkrar armbeygjur for the pleasing sense of exertion they give in the backs of the arms. Smile at this and feel in the muscles of the face that it is a new smile, one borrowed from a more recent friend and never before used here.

miðvikudagur, júlí 26, 2006


The accents are weaker. Security is tighter. Café París is nearly unrecognizable. Lord knows what they are doing to Fógetinn there on Ingólfstorg. I tried to buy a tveggja vikna kort for the damnable Strætó at the terrible sjoppa on Lækjartorg, but it's gone now, replaced by a tourism whatsis.

(Til huggunar eru Fjalakötturinn og Hressó aftur á sínum stöðum, þó bara eftirlíkingar.)

The worst is that some fool has changed the packaging of the classic, nay, venerable Opal. This on top of the discontinuation of the Blue, which was like wiping out part of the spectrum of white light, is altogether too much.

I do not wish this country back into the fornöld. I do not like to think of myself as one who demands that a place remain frozen in time, a theme park of the authentic, all the inhabitants playing the roles of those people who were there when she first came. But I do not like these changes. Yesterday evening I gazed appreciatively down at a pool of water by the harbor and admired the blood of unlucky fish resting at the bottom.

þriðjudagur, júlí 25, 2006


In dark times you may find yourself standing on an enchanted isle in the middle of the river Lethe. It is populated with graceful, shadowy beings. They wear the faces of beautiful animals and of your kindest former lovers, but their dark eyes are their own. They glide and float. They coo and twitter. They speak of comfort. Beware of them: they offer only fleeting pleasures (though sweet), more regrets, and lasting oblivion.

Or you may find yourself on the bank of another river, a shallow one with nearly still waters, and feel certain that your journey must be continued on the other side. Do not ford it. Its waters have the quality of turning anything dipped into them into silvery stone. This river has other uses (the stone lifted out from its waters holds a marvelously fine edge), but do not wade into it now.

Find instead the warm spring called Bloodstopper. Its waters have a stanching virtue. Lower yourself into it. But do not stay submerged too long even here. Too long, and it may still your blood all the way to your heart.

mánudagur, júlí 24, 2006


Of course. French cher is from Latin carus. English cherish is from another form of cher, apparently a superlative. But look: carus is from PIE *qar-, the same root that gives us English whore, OE hore, ON hora, OHG huora. (Behold Grimm's law at work: Latin C and Germanic H, as in centus and hundred, canis and hound. If kærleikur is indeed from cher and carus, then its initial consonant has made an end run around the first Germanic sound shift.)

But whore is a bit strong, don't you think? *quar gives words in other daughter languages of a more pleasant nature: not just Latin carus but OIr cara, "friend," and even Skt. kama of the Kama Sutra. One wonders: Have Germanic speakers been historically more given to cursing those they once loved? Heartbreak can have unpleasant side effects, some of them behavioral. Certainly Brynhildr went to extremes in avenging herself upon a man who had once been kær, dear.

Or maybe it means nothing. Only the most sensitive of us will, perhaps, avoid kærleikur in favor of ást.

Full credit here to Douglas Harper's Online Etymology.

sunnudagur, júlí 23, 2006


Heavens, a person gets stiff sitting in one place. Being jammed into an airplane seat does not help at all. You step out onto the ground again, sniff the air, and would stride off with all moving parts gliding perfectly and smoothly past each other, but alas, every joint is kinked and crabbed. Simple things take forever.

But there is a simple solution. Exercise, æving, is the answer, as it so often the case. Tökum bara nokkrar beygingar. Those declensions will be clicking along like a four-cylinder engine in no time.

laugardagur, júlí 22, 2006


How extraordinary that the word care comes from PGerm (*karo) and PIE (*gar), roots meaning to cry out, to scream.

Kær, kærleikur, &c. I have always assumed derive from whatever French gives us modern cher, cheri, &c. The native Norse is presumably ást. But does cher derive also from PIE *gar? I have no idea. Later, I will look up the sound changes in Romance that would make clear whether this derivation is even possible. I'll have to look it up: Romance is not at all my strong suit.

But how touching that those ancient lexical wellsprings of care are gone, gone, lost to us and now existing only behind the * that designates a reconstructed word. What presumption. To think that one could ever truly put such things back together again in their original forms, the way they were when living people held them, gently or angrily, in their mouths.


I dimly recall puzzling out the meaning of the word vei. This was back in the gray dawn of my romance with the language as a whole (a friendship that blossomed slowly into something more, as can happen). My native speaker interlocutor was struggling with an explanation when it struck me: woe. There are some striking parallel constructions: Ó, vei mér! Oy, vey ist mir! Oh, woe is me! As usual, the Icelandic is more compact than the Yiddish or English.

Then there is the construction: vei + dat. = "woe unto __," e.g., vei þér, "woe unto you," "woe be to thee." Handy, if that's the sort of thing you would like to express in a succinct form, and haven't we all had days like that?

Paradoxically, vei is also used like English "yay," as in vei vei vei! Ég fer í frí til Majorca á morgun! Jibbí! I'm sure the natives don't confuse the two, but isn't the idea of such confusion an interesting one?

föstudagur, júlí 21, 2006


All light is grayed out when the rain hits. The river disappears. The bridge vanishes. Thunder resounds. Lightning sparks. I can make out the brick wall of the adjacent building, thickly furred with ivy. The passing billows of wind make the leaves ripple like the pelt of a huge animal buffeted by rough waters.


Looking at the sealions swimming around and around in the green water of their tank, a person might feel foolish observing these animals so far from their own native place. But then they've come so far in so many ways. They used to be something like a dog, something like an otter, and now look at them: eyes shut, sleek bellies skyward, cruising below the surface like perfect torpedos. When they break the water, the water's refraction always makes for greater displacement than you expect.

What might they be thinking, so far from their beginnings, their home, their bent-sunlight images?

Here swim I, long since neither dog nor otter. I live now ever at sea. I do not wish to claw the earth. My skull is like a wolf's skull and my body like a barbed spear piercing the broad flank of the ocean. I am never where the sun thinks I am. I am somewhere else until I rise and turn, and then I dive again.

fimmtudagur, júlí 20, 2006


It is very nearly unbearably hot. The air is damp, and this makes it seem darker. These are not nights for wrapping yourself in furs. Still, blast the air conditioning if you must, damn the expense, and dream of wolves.

miðvikudagur, júlí 19, 2006

Child #92

Kaatskills. Kinderhook (was that once hoek?). Ghent. All of a sudden I am in the Lowlands. The shaggy horses are not Frisians, more's the pity, but there is farmland aplenty and lowland place names. With lunch I have a blackcurrant lambic all the way from Belgium, sour and astonishingly magenta in color.

þriðjudagur, júlí 18, 2006


One of the classical names of these parts. There are many.

Albany, Albion, albus, albedo. Albus is white, and so Albany is the white city. Albion should be the white land, the shining land. There is an old British (not English) root under the name; I was once told it meant something like shining and referred to the surface of the Earth. Albedo gives more than a hint of that sense, one might say reflects that deep root.

Here the surface of the earth is a dark, rough green.

miðvikudagur, júlí 12, 2006


It is a familiar double silhouette, one figure cradling another at the side of a darkened street after the bars close. She faces away from the passers-by, towards a shopfront. He holds her by the shoulders gently, firmly, as if she were a heavy bottle of wine upended and shaking with every gulp of air choking past the liquid splashing out. Another liquid is forcing its way out of her body.

Such couples are a common enough sight on the nocturnal, bar-lined streets of Northern cities, though this is not one. There, it is often as not the ignominious beginning of a beautiful romance. You may well wrinkle your nose as you pass them, sure of your rootedness in another, more tasteful romantic culture and accordingly of your own immunity to such public humiliations.

Maybe you are already a few steps past them when another sound makes its way to you, and you realize that you have misread the scene: It is not a beginning at all but an end.

mánudagur, júlí 10, 2006

lamin vísa

Of stutt, alltof stutt ...

Ástmann á hún
þó sorglegt sé að
hundar hjartans
við mánann gelta,

laugardagur, júlí 08, 2006

kunna, geta

I have many unusual abilities. Such things are come by in odd ways.

I learned a language almost alone by piecing together sincere descriptions of my thoughts and fears as if with tiles scavenged from ancient mosiacs. I would then hurl them from my window into the blackness of space. Somehow they did not shatter.

I can fold a fitted sheet into something nearly square. I marvelled the first time I saw someone, a nurse, perform this feat. Now I can do it myself.

fimmtudagur, júlí 06, 2006


Oh, how I hate the meme.

I have never read Dawkins. I probably wouldn't have anything much against him if I did. But, oh, how I hate the meme as an idea. Observe the Wikipedia entry for meme. A handy list of common memes is included. Here are some of them:

* Jokes (or at least those jokes popularly considered funny).
* Proverbs and aphorisms: for example: "You can't keep a good man down".
* Nursery rhymes: propagated from parent to child over many generations, sometimes with associated actions and movements.
* Children's culture: games, activities and taunts typical for different age groups.
* Epic poems: once important memes for preserving oral history; writing has largely superseded their oral transmission.
* Conspiracy theories
* Fashions
* Medical and safety advice: "Don't swim for an hour after eating" or "Steer in the direction of a skid".
* Movies: very memetic given their mass replication — people tend to replicate scenes or repeat popular catch phrases such as "You can't handle the truth!" from A Few Good Men or "Alllllllrighty then!" from Ace Ventura, even if they have not seen the movie themselves.
* Religions: complex memes, including folk religious beliefs, such as The Prayer of Jabez.
* Viral marketing: A type of marketing based on memes and using word of mouth to advertise.
* Group-based biases: everything from anti-semitism and racism to cargo cults.
* Internet phenomena: Internet slang
* Anecdote: short joke/story

Observe the Wikipedia entry for folklore. A handy list of genres is included. I have reproduced it below with some color coding: Where a folklore genre corresponds closely to an element on the meme list, the genre and the meme have been given the same color.

* Ballad
* Blason Populaire
* Counting rhymes
* Costumbrista
* Custom
* Folk play
* Epic poetry
* Festival
* Folk speech
* Folk art
* Folk belief
* Folk magic
* Folk metaphor
* Folk poetry and rhyme
* Folk simile
* Folk song
* Folk tale
o Animal tale
o Fairy tale
o Jocular tale
* Games
* Holiday lore and customs
* Joke
* Legend
o Urban (or Contemporary) legend
* Material culture
* Myth
* Memorate
* Proverb
* Riddle
* Superstition and popular belief
* Taunts
* Weather lore
* Xerox lore

Not listed among these genres are catch phrases and traditional advice or folk wisdom (e.g., steer into the skid), but they too are supposed memes that fall well into the ambit of folklore. And fashion is a subset of material culture, that is, costume. At the head of the entry, we are told that Dawkins also regarded ways of making pots or of building arches as memes. I think that would be material culture, don't you?

Worse yet, Dawkins has some superorganic notion of how the blessed memes circulate, replicate, etc., heavily reliant on a biological metaphor. Folklorists (who, viz. abovementioned entries, have been studying this sort of cultural phenomena longer than the memologists) tossed out the biological metaphor and superorganicism a long time ago.

Tell me again why we need this meme thing.

miðvikudagur, júlí 05, 2006


Smelling gunpowder and seeing the explosions flash over another city, I think of independence and of Námaskarð, where I stood peering into the stinking paintpots on a solo circumnavigation last summer, a sulphurous pause before setting out again on the open road.

Hringvegurinn is of course anything but an open road. It is a closed road, a ring, a serpent biting its tail. I imagine that if it unhooked its hindmost barb from behind its foremost teeth, it would rampage over the earth, spitting poison and destruction. Something to be avoided.

Thinking of independence and what people may be willing to do to gain it. This country used a fair amount of gunpowder in wresting itself free from King and Parliament, some if not all of it made with sulphur from northern Iceland. Iceland, on the other hand, used very little of its own stores (or anyone else's). Considering what sort of independence movements are, at the end of the day, most or least destructive.

þriðjudagur, júlí 04, 2006

rogo, rogare

Killing time drifting through the overpriced bookstore, the new books unaccountably smell of curry powder and, less surprisingly, regret. Is there anything more sad than seeing things you would have given as gifts to certain people, had the appropriate moment not passed?

Of course there are. There are a thousand things more sad than that. It is a stupid question. It is a question that forms in your mouth out of habit, even if you have never said it before. Its syntax is simply the way you express, that all people express, that particular emotion, even though the actual words are nonsensical. It is like bemoaning one's fate with a plaintive Why me? when you know full well that no answer to that question would begin to satisfy and when you do not believe in anything like the fundamental cosmic order that would allow such an answer.

Less rendingly, it is like that Tvíhöfði sketch in which a fellow keeps responding to his friend's excited narrative with the usual discourse markers used to manage conversation and signal the listener's attention and appreciation: Nei! Þú segir ekki! Ég trúúúúi þessu ekki!. This rhetorical and meaningless question to the universe--is there anything more sad than--is a discourse marker in a conversation with life and its vaguaries.

mánudagur, júlí 03, 2006

upp og niður

Þooooooooooli ekki að pakka niður. I loathe packing up. Going is not always so bad, but packing up I find dreadful.

For years now I have been amused at how my Scandinavian friends invariably confuse English pack up with Scandinavian pakke opp. Americans pack up to leave. Scandinavians pack up (or out) only once they've arrived and they've begun rooting through the cartons and lifting out various objects and belongings. The other activity is, quite sensibly, packing down.

Up and down. Opp og ned. Upp og niður. I seem unable to block out the imagined voice of Johnny Triumph singing Luftgítar. As I have packed up (or niður) all my CDs, this earworm will have to do.

laugardagur, júlí 01, 2006


Feeling paremiological this evening:

Good advice is only of use if the recipient is prepared to take it.

Oughtn't this be proverbial? Perhaps:
Gagnslaus eru góð ráð
gaumlausum manni

Could that be? Please advise.
Hvaðan þið eruð