fimmtudagur, ágúst 31, 2006

brekekekex ko-ax ko-ax

A few nights ago, upon coming back to the house, the light from the entry reveals a motion on the gravel drive. She squats down on her haunches, her knees pointing away at angles. Then she sees: It is hundreds of frogs, each no more than three centimeters long, spring-loaded in their unlikely hindquarters, knees now flexed and jutting forward and now flung back straight behind. They are all hopping and jumping away from the house, away from the car.

miðvikudagur, ágúst 30, 2006


He used to hide the box from her so she wouldn't eat them all at once. This was at her request. Then, occassionally, she would ask for just one, please, shyly, with her head tipped a little down and just a bit to one side and her eyes looking up from under her lashes, coy and abashed both at once (--the way I have since then caught myself doing, sometimes, not often, and not in sight of just anyone). He would bring her one (just one), and she would place it on her tongue and savor it as it dissolved.

They were very much in love.

Then a box of them comes to light in a crate full of books. (He had hid them in the library; she had never known.) He can't bear to throw them away, and he can't bear to keep them. I said I'd drive west with them and eat them on the way. But they're five years old and melted, he said. I don't care, I said. I'll eat them on the way.

þriðjudagur, ágúst 29, 2006

þaðan og áfram

How did you get here? A decade flies by and drags you in its slipstream to places you could never have predicted. Across national borders. Through tangles of grammar. In and out of the embraces of lovers and friends.

There is no reason to think that the next ten years will not rush past just as violently and with just as many changes in its wake. It is too bad, too bad, really, that there is no way you could foresee how you will get knocked about, whither to and whither fro, what turbulence, storm, and stillness will follow. It would have been nice to have been able to plan a bit, ahead of time.

mánudagur, ágúst 28, 2006


The least place-like of all non-places I know is the newer wing of Keflavík airport. There really ought to be a recognized scale. For example, Sinsen Krysset is a classic non-place, being no more than a tangle of underpasses and a roundabout. Nonetheless it has a name and a busstop. But the younger wing of Leifsstöð, svo ég viti, is not named anything in particular. That alone makes it less of a place.

Leifsstöð itself is very place-like for an airport, also a classic sort of non-place. It has that charming nickname, for one. BSÍ is similar, as is Grand Central Station, for that matter. They are high on the scale, up at the almost-places end. Sinsen Krysset is lower down. Way down on the scale, I hold, is the new wing.

The flights to the States leave from there. It is behind another wall of security, past a line of scowling pass-checkers, isolated from the main terminal with its bar, stained glass window, bank, café, the quality duty free. Architecturally, it resembles Gardermoen, which is definitely a non-place, and this adds to the overall disorienting effect. It looks out onto nothing in particular: luggage trolleys, runway equipment. No books are available for purchase there, nor anything else really worth buying. No food or coffee of any note. It's full of people not even stopping for a day. There is nothing cosy there, no hygge at all.

Of course I'd have stopped for longer if I could. I'd leave the non-place and go out, if only onto the weird wrinkled plain of Reykjanes. Instead I sit behind the glass for a few hours, fire a few electronic messages into the ether and receive a few in return. And then off and soon far above the silent Greenland ice, on my way somewhere else.

sunnudagur, ágúst 27, 2006


What is that toy called, the dipping bird? The long-necked bird on the axle that dips and dips its beak? Another almost perpetual motion machine. Another representation of a bird that looks nothing like a bird, like those little arched shapes the lazy artist can use to signify birds high up, in flight. But the motion reminds me of real birds, not the rocking but the repetition. The back and forth. Wingbeats. Migrations.

I came in some small part to see the terns, the little brave ones that fly from pole to pole. I almost missed them. And now I will go back. Like plovers, snow geese, or those favorites of -- it doesn't matter whom -- the black-necked, dignified, dark-eyed Canada geese, flying overhead, their clattering cries like Herne's hunt.

Oh, I am hardly so noble.


It's better than 'Avslutt', which is the translation of 'Cancel' in Windows-speak. Angreknappen: the button you push when you feel regret and you want to go back to an earlier stage.

föstudagur, ágúst 25, 2006


It gets like this every time. You run around for days in exhaustion and tension, your breath getting progressively worse from dehydration and coffee abuse. You wonder how you will ever survive. Even without the frantic code-switching, there is more than enough to spin your brain about, and though half of the offerings are in fact total nonsense, you can waste a great deal of time trying to separate them from the rest. The insomnia-addled brain is not good at this, and you can make yourself feel very stupid indeed trying to wrest sense from a presentation that is, in fact, without any meaning at all.

But then it gets like this: an odd sensation creeps up on you, and you start to think that your life is always like this. You hit your stride. You will be surprised two days later when you find you have tickets to leave.

fimmtudagur, ágúst 24, 2006

havsens bunn

Two days ago someone who has very little patience for hobbits asked her what she liked about Tolkien. She answered without hestitation: The evocation of deep time. What other author has managed that so effectively?

And tonight she looks out at the sea of dialects sloshing back and forth among her friends and is struck with genuine wonder. How did this part of her life become eleven years deep? She is certain that it is depth and not length. Somehow the measure of experience in a little plot of this city is like this, a few square meters of almost incredible depth, a bore taken in the Greenland ice or in the center of a neolithic burial mound, a plumb line let slowly down into trench off Japan.

þriðjudagur, ágúst 22, 2006


If you saw and understood Lost in Translation, then you probably understand it. If you hated it and didn't see the point of it, you probably won't. It's those odd, arrested, interrupted friendships. Long friendships that feel like you are seeing them on ancient, cracked celluloid where you can see the frames flashing by and the black bands between them. Only the strange magic of our eyes and brains summons from this flickering the perception of motion, of narrative.

Sitting by a friend of this sort (one with black streaks of blankness streaking through him), having lifted the last glass and smiled across the table at your other tippling mates, you can feel that he has, simultaneously with you, hit that part of the evening when all the sadness in your life climbs up onto your shoulders and curls around your neck like a cat, a mink, an ermine.

You look at him and he looks at you and you both say your goodbyes to the others and walk off to the train. He is going east and you are going west, and so you part ways where the platforms diverge.

sunnudagur, ágúst 20, 2006


Man blir kjent med Oslo på nytt:

Big Bite Meny
Kvikk lunsj
Stengte toaletter i Frognerparken

laugardagur, ágúst 19, 2006

den usynelige

It's not her imagination. It happened the last time she was here, and it certainly happened all the time when she lived here.

There are those glass doors -- in banks, post offices, in front of the 7-11s belching the perversely tempting smell of superannuated frankfurters rolling on the bars of the grill -- the glass doors that slide open in response to some signal from an electric eye. Dørene åpner automatisk, the little sign informs us, we ought not to try to push them in and open ourselves.

She would walk up to them, right up to them, and stand there stupidly as they remained shut. Infuriating. She would wave her arms at them. She restrained herself from addressing them verbally. Eventually, as if the electric eye had been occupied reading a newspaper and had only just noticed her, they would open.

Always it would make her wonder whether she was, in fact, invisible. It would have fit with so many other things.

föstudagur, ágúst 18, 2006

svart hav

I thought I heard the old man say ...

It's either an anchor-weighing song or a song about the first month of pay that sailors got, finally, long after having put to sea.

Just one more pull and then belay,
Oh, poor old man

It sprang to mind in a too-warm café on the southern tip of a west-coast island on the old sea highway of Norway (it is still the sea highway). I was talking to the old man resting in a chair by the wall after bringing me my waffle and my watery coffee. There was a map on the wall with a red pin stuck into the tiny image of Iceland. I remarked on it. Oh yes, he said. He had been four, five, six times on summer fishing boats in the north of Iceland: Skagafjörður, Ísafjörður, Siglufjörður, Akureyri, chasing the herring.

I came in on the chorus: And then the herring disappeared. (I thought: He must have been a young man then. The herring boom, the herring ævintýri -- adventure, fairy tale -- was many years ago.)

Oh, yes, gone, bort og vekk, svart hav -- "black seas."

It had been silver seas when the herring ran. There are songs about it.

I was sorry to have to leave to catch my bus.

mánudagur, ágúst 14, 2006

dætr Ægis

Below the car decks, she supposes the sea outside has gone from Prussian Blue to darker things, more opaque. She can't see it, of course. In her berth there is no light and no porthole. Lying side-to the forward motion, the pitching of the ship becomes the rolling of her bed.

It is nothing like being in the belly of a whale -- she is sure of this even without ever having been in the belly of a whale. It is like being in a giant's cradle. The giant's daughters rock the cradle and whisper to one another about the tiny creature they have found; their father has not come home yet.

sunnudagur, ágúst 13, 2006


The bells ring every fifteen minutes. The sound squeezes into her castle room, through the bars, and spreads out again like a unit of light scattering through the two slits to the consternation of physicists. Of course, she could not have known that the interval was fifteen minutes if she did not have a tiny, silent clock of her own. And isn't that the odd thing, to imagine those bells as the arbiters of time, as they were, centuries ago (and would anyone have known it was centuries without some mechanical calendar?). She thinks of monks rising and praying, rising and praying, at all hours in the old sense: matins, vespers, all those hours. When there was no other time but this.

Somewhere behind this all, she thinks she hears a distant, low, mournful note like a foghorn. It is dark, her eyes are shut, and she cannot at all determine its interval or even if she is only imagining it.

But soon it is time to go.

laugardagur, ágúst 05, 2006


She used to take demon lovers. Djöflar, púkar, óhreinir andar, undarlegar vættir allar.

She had a charm, a spell that would summon them. A few words and some numbers with no apparent meaning. And then they would emerge out of the night or from the twilight of dawn or dusk, come to her in her rooms and slide soundlessly into her bed.

One would think that they would have possessed her. That is the usual language and way of these things. But it seems rather that she possessed them. Perhaps the charm was also a binding. After their meetings she would send them back into the mist to be, again, invisible to all.

Eventually she stopped reciting the charm. At the time, she wasn't sure why.

Some time later she found it again, scribbled on a bit of paper and jammed into the pocket of a winter coat. She flattened out the paper. Then, on a whim, she pronounced it backwards.

She told me, once, softly and smiling, what happened then, but I don't think I will tell you what she said.

föstudagur, ágúst 04, 2006


She was living on an island then. Her father, meaning well and wanting to surprise her, dug out an old seal fur cape from a trunk in the attic---it had belonged to her great-grandmother, an immigrant from another country---and sent it to her in the mail. She sighed when she opened the package and saw the translucent white fur. She decided not to chide him in a letter, even though she knew that she would never be able to bring it home again. Travelling in that direction, it would be surely be confiscated by customs agents. The laws vary from one land to another. She hung the cape in the closet of her rental apartment, where it stayed for months.

When the sea-ice broke up in spring, and the black shore was once again lapped by green-gray surf, she went out with the cape around her shoulders to the edge of the cliffs and, after pausing to draw a lungfull of morning air, leapt out into the wideness between the vault of the sky and the restless sea. She traced a long arc through the air, disappeared into the waves, and swam away.


Red Letter Day.

Also, it would seem, a read letter day.

It is nice when those two match up.

miðvikudagur, ágúst 02, 2006

allt ljómandi

It lies in the eyes upstairs. Everybody's naked on his back without his brother. Excuse me, but we are starving here and we are going to have to eat your car.

It's always amusing to translate Icelandic expressions word-for-word into English.

The one I always found most heartbreaking was ég segi allt ljómandi. It's a standard, peppy answer to the inevitable question: Hvað segirðu gott? i.e., How are you? Lit. What do you say good? Icelanders being insanely optimistic and unrelentingly hressir, they often answer Ég segi allt ljómandi, i.e. Everything's great! Lit. I say everything shining.

I say everything shining.

There's a fantastic poetry to that one, especially on a clear, clear, blue-skyed day with the glacier far out on the end of Snæfellsnes glampandi---the snow and ice glittering over the glass-green water---Esja and Skarðsheiði and everything almost too near.

Especially, too, when you know that they say this, Icelanders do, regardless of their actual internal state. The sun is shining, another clean-cut, fair-haired (they are not all fair-haired, but let us say this one is), long-limbed young man says everything just shining! and he could be newly heartbroken or newly done breaking someone else's heart. Before you know this, you may be taken in. You may hear no minor-key undertone in the phrase, only cheer.

Those bright days are stunning, but after duskfall (there is no nightfall in high summer) you will hear hrossagaukar rising into the air on whirring wings, and it will give you chills, and you will remember that the other side of the year is dark and cold and beckons the glaciers down into the valleys.

þriðjudagur, ágúst 01, 2006

ekki imponerandi

Reykjavík's least impressive free daily has an interesting story today. I say interesting because I was tempted to say 'amusing' but realized in time that this would be inappropriate. Apparently, the Iranian President has issued a decree (I am unsure how otherwise to understand tilskipun in this context) forbidding his countrymen from using foreign words and expressions. He has even issued a list of good Persian (Farsi) words to replace commonly used slettur. 'Pizza' is of course to be replaced, we are to understand, by a word meaning something like 'stretchy bread' (teygjanlegt brauð). Even the vocabulary borrowed from Arabic, the language of the Koran, is to be stamped out. The whole thing pains me, even though I don't speak a lick of Farsi.

I imagine Ahmadinejad would be appalled that this was being reported in Icelandic.
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