Miss South Carolina

This just about sums up the debate, folks, and in just two cartoon frames:

Hazing in Ísafjörður

As I came back across the harbor after lunch this afternoon I saw a crowd gathering and heard a lot of young men making silly noises. There was this one young man standing around without a shirt, smeared in what looked like soap (but turned out to be eggs), looking down on the small boat dock.

Curious, I snapped a picture and stepped closer.

The next thing I knew I was surrounded - by 8-10 cars! Since there is nothing interesting to do in Ísafjörður, it seems, the youth spend their free time driving around and around and around in their cars with the windows open and the music blaring, hoping that something exciting would happen. There were at least 20 cars that passed me last night at midnight on the way home, and here were all these cars come by in no time!

And what a sight there was to see - down below were two more young kids with bare chests and all sorts of yucky stuff on their pants and skin. They were being pelted with eggs by the crowd, and it was strange, as they were not resisting at all.

One of the guys timidly got down and dipped his toes into the water - I knew enough Icelandic to understand that he was complaining about the coldness of the water.

The crowd yelled "Áfram! Áfram!" - come on, come on, and he eventually sat down straddling the pipe that marks the berths for the small boats. He again complained about the coldness of the water as he slid out towards the end of the pole. Now it was the next guy's turn.

He, too, gingerly got down and straddled the pipe.

And off they went, they began jousting, each trying to force the other guy into the water. But they seemed to be an equal match (frozen and drunk) and they quickly both fell into the water.

I asked the receptionist when I got to school what on earth that was. She said that during the first week of high school, the freshmen have to go through a hazing. They are "sold" to the third-year-students and have to do everything that is asked of them that day. They submit, because that is the tradition, and of course they cannot wait to be third-year students themselves and buy their own slaves that they force to do silly things.



Icelandic Course - Part 2

Gosh, suddenly the course is almost over! Getting up this morning we discovered that the mountains had disappeared - the clouds were so low and thick that you couldn't see them anymore. The morning flight got diverted to the airstrip two fjords over, somehow they alerted everyone to get up an hour early so they could catch a bus for a 45-minute ride there, using the Breiðadals- og Botnsheiðar Tunnel, a really scary one-lane, 6 km tunnel. There are "meeting points" every 200 meters or so. Traffic coming towards Ísafjörður has the right-of-way. One of the course members comes into town through the tunnel, she said there was an enormous amount of outbound traffic this morning.

So we had "talking about the weather" as our topic this morning. Seems there are five different ways to say "it's cloudy" out and about 15 different terms for storms. Sort of like the urban legend of the Eskimos having 40 different words for snow. We were looking them up, and there was one for "wind of gale force 9" and a different one for "wind of gale force 10 or more". There was a word, Él, for the sudden onset of snow.

We listened to the weather news - goes on forever, there are so many different weather condition areas in this little country. And then we went on a field trip to talk about the weather.

Lucky us, it cleared up! We first went to Skrúður on the Dýrafirði. This was the first botanical gardens in Iceland, started about 100 years ago. It is a walled garden, just below a mini-glacier, and it has a bunch of different trees and flowers and berries growing inside. It also has a whalebone jaw set up as a door - notice the size of the thing by observing that there is a grown man in the right hand corner!

It had stopped raining by now, and the clouds had lifted, so we practiced the words for "it's clearing up" and "nice weather today, isn't it?".

We continued on to a "sandy beach" that is sandy half the day - when the tide is out. It was a very nice beach, the sand half white and half black (volcanic dust). We had a sand-castle building contest that was supposed to be in Icelandic, but it was done under time pressure, so we ended up using English to delegate tasks and to build. We had a lovely castle built, we called it the "beach botanical gardens", built with all the nice stuff we were able to collect in just a few minutes.

After a nice coffee and berry crunch we returned to Ísafjörður - where it started to rain. So we got to try saying that as well.

Forgot to mention the cruise ship that pulled up to Ísafjörður for the day. Some British boat filled with pensioners exploring the arctic lands. We came up to the school and had groups of 2, 4 or 6 people coming our way. One group spoke to us, anxiously, asking if we spoke English. Of course! "Can you please tell us which way the town is?" Um, you're in it, folks. This is the university center, next door is the museum, the other side is the sporting goods shop, then we have the harbor, and then a few more buildings/shops. That's it! But we were nice, pointed them in the direction of "town", and wished them a pleasant day. Now they can tell all their friends that Icelanders speak with American accents!


Gísli Saga

I just realized that I seem to only have written my blog post on the Gísli Saga in my head, not anywhere digital and most certainly not on my blog. I probably need a WLAN-connected thought processor in my head, but I supposed I should just learn to post using my mobile phone.

Anyway. The Gísli saga is about - surprise - a guy called Gísli who had to leave Norway sometime around 950 because he had killed a few people too many. The saga is one of the shorter ones, so it is often read with students (I actually remember reading it about 20 years or so ago), and it happens to depict the adventures after Gísli and his companions landed in these parts.

The story was written down about 200 years later, so the details may be off a tad, but the places described are rather accurate, so scholars think it is true. The story is a rather involved one with women telling each other gossip and men overhearing and overreacting (i.e. killing each other) and eventually Gísli getting himself banned but refusing to leave his wife so she moves to a remote fjord and he hides alternately in her house and in a cave. He was quite a sly fox and had evaded his followers for years. He is eventually killed, with her fighting by his side, but he takes a lot of guys with him. His wife moves to the Viking town of Hedeby (Haithabu, just north of Kiel in Germany), converts to Christianity and eventually moves on to Rome.

We know the story by heart now - we saw the movie (Útlaginn, directed by Ágúst Guðmundsson), had a 3-hour lecture (in Icelandic!) on it, and then had field trips to see where it happened. I went on the first one, which was described as "easy paths". This included crossing some creeks balancing on boards with someone helping you over, hopping from hillock to hillock, jumping down a little hill and climbing over some fences. It was not raining by Icelandic standards, but we do look a bit bedraggled in the pictures.

We had a knowledgeable guide who recited the saga to us in Icelandic (lucky me, I ran through the English version over lunch just to be sure I remembered it). Then we were treated to a one-man-play by the only actor in Ísafjörður, Elfar Logi Hannesson who does a one act play, Gísli Súrsson, in English or in Icelandic. We got the English, thank goodness. It was very funny, and very well done for making you remember the story.

The hardiest of the group took the second field trip and walked down to the fjord where Gísli hid with his wife, nominally a four hour trip, but with an abundance of blueberries, they ended up taking lots of blueberry breaks. They had great weather and quite enjoyed the trip, but I liked my own blueberry picking.

So now we are completely checked out on this saga, I suppose we have to go on to the others, in order to have a more complete understanding of the Icelandic soul. Egilssaga, here we come!

Die Hard 4.0

Hah. Bet you never thought I would go to see one of these, did you? Well, up here in Ísafjörður there is actually a movie theater that shows films Thursday through Monday. They have matinées for the kiddos on the weekend with a speaker speaking in the Icelandic over the English. Not good for me, although I would have liked to see Ratatoullie.

Last week war Transformer, I decided to wait a week. It got worse, the choice this week was Die Hard 4.0. Or Icelandic TV, which is like US TV, only worse. They choose the worst of German, US, and English TV, and everything about fish. And then pepper it with advertising and sub-titles. Since tonight was a nice film about tuna fishing on TV, I figured I would go for the movie. It was about computers, wasn't it?

Well, yes. Former US computer specialist is fired, is now determined to show the country its soft underbelly. He can get into all systems, and bring them down. But never fear, Bruce Willis is here, with more lives than a cat. He saves the last hacker who can help, and together they save the country and Bruce' lovely daughter. Along the way a lot of things get blown up, a lot of cars get smashed, an airplane that can fly through bridge columns gets smashed, and a lot of people get killed.

Bruce and his side-kick get wounded a lot, but it is rather amusing to see the wounds come and go. I think they forgot to hire a continuity editor. I eventually begin to see bits of the Gisli Saga in the movie, which makes it a lot more fun, Gisli and his wife were able to kill 8 others in that final battle, you see, just like Bruce.

The computer stuff was awesome. Nokia mobile phones; rollable keyboards; suitcases with multiple color screens that flip up when the suitcase is opened; biiiiiig flat screens, lots and lots and lots of them. The two Palms just mystified me, however. What were they doing with them, checking off their task lists? Mine is a great address book and alarm clock and a nasty opponent at backgammon, but can you cause mass system failure with a Palm?

The software was kind of silly - the screens were either bunches of numbers, or TTY-type terminals flashing login codes, or fancy maps and videos and stuff. One funny scene at Warlord's basement - Bruce puts his finger over the camera to ask Warlord something, but of course that doesn't kill the mike. The nasty opponent makes a sarcastic remark to this effect.

These guys can trace anything, anytime, get into anywhere with phony FBI suits and ID cards. In times of an emergency, anyone who says they are FBI probably is. And as one character says: they needed 5 days during Katrina to get water to the Superdome. The US systems, computer and human, are broken, terminally.

Some observations:

  1. Even if we have all these surveillance cameras just to find the "bad ones" and the government is always going to be a "good" government (cough, cough, cough), if the bad guys can penetrate their system, then they can use all this stuff for their own deeds, as shown in the movie.
  2. When the mobile phones go out, you are hosed, unless you still have a ham radio outfit working.
  3. If you are planning on stealing millions of digital dollars, you won't actually be able to cash it in if you trash the financial system while you are at it. Bits aren't gold.
  4. Even though Icelanders pay a pretty penny to see the movie (about 9,50 €), they get popcorn and chips and cokes both before the film and during the break, and they rustle in their bags the entire film. That's why the film has to be turned up so loud, I suppose. The advertising was nice, though - just slides for the next films and the one clothing shop in town. They had to cycle though it many times.
  5. Icelanders can't read - even I could figure out that one of the slides said: Don't dump your garbage on the floor, put it in the garbage can!!!!! And there were BIG garbage cans at the end of the rows. But they still just dropped everything.

Some questions:
  1. Can planes fly down the lower level of a double-decker highway?
  2. What was in the final truck Bruce was driving and why?
  3. Where did all his guns come from? He always had a new one.
  4. Why was there always a drivable car available for Bruce?
  5. How many flights can he fall down and not get killed? How often can he get wounded and not get killed?
  6. How did the hacker guy get all that cool equipment into his tiny shoulder bag?
  7. How can you drive a car up to the 4th floor in order to smash it into people?
  8. What are the physics of smashing up a car just so that it manages to down a helicopter?
  9. If there are all these wrecked and burning cars all over the place, why are there no dead drivers anywhere?

Enough questions, time for bed. Got class tomorrow early!


There's a nice little shop in Ísafjörður that is open pretty much all day, the hamburger shop at the bus service. Busses run 3 times a day during the week. The shop has a few newspapers, ice cream and coke, sweets and chips, pizza and microwave hamburgers, skýr in all the flavors you can think of, and a few necessities.

I waited for the sullen teenager behind the cash register to go to the back room to snap this little collection of necessities next to the coffee machine which spews a foul brew. Let's see, what kinds of things could you need after the grocery store closes at 9pm?

  • Toothbrush and toothpaste - check.
  • Razors and Band-Aids - check.
  • Sanitary pads - check.
  • Baby pacifiers - check.
  • Drumsticks, guitar strings, and a guitar strap? Well, maybe.
  • Condoms and massage cream - okay, so we can figure out what people do evenings and weekends around here :)


A Blueberry Day

It was a wonderful, sunny, summer Icelandic day. Blue skies, sunny - even this evening is cloudless, but I am freezing my hands as the open WLAN is only reachable from the outside benches, not from my cellar room....

I climbed up a bit of the mountain behind Ísafjörður this afternoon, looking for blueberries. Are there ever blueberries! Big, sweet blueberries, close to the ground. Tons of them. All you have to do is grab down and pull. I picked for 45 minutes, stuffing my gob on occasion. What a wonderful taste sensation having your mouth just stuffed with blueberries!

I had a whole bag of them picked, enough for lunch, supper, and breakfast tomorrow. It was so sunny I was starting to get sunburned, so I thought I would head down. Going down shouldn't be soooo difficult, should it? It is. Looking for a good place to put your feet when the ground (and the potholes) are covered in grass is a challenge. I crossed some little creeks, washing my hands in the first one. Yup, seems glacial to me - freezing cold! I finally made it down almost to the houses when I remembered I had crossed a bridge waaaaay up there - no bridge here, but a few furts here and there. You climb down a very steep hill, jump or wade, and back up another very steep hill. Hmm. Maybe on down a bit?

I walked though a few pine trees, an Icelandic forest. The old joke goes: What do you do if you get lost in an Icelandic forest? You just stand up. This forest had wild strawberries, lots of them! I picked and ate on the spot all I could find! I finally made it down to a place where the hill was not quite so steep, and made it across the creek.

Now, how to get back to civilization? The houses weren't far, but the space between them and me was covered with weeds higher than I am! I tried to follow this bit and that, but the brush eventually got to be too much. I climbed back up to the top of the hill, set my sight on the nearest street, and then just charged through - and made it!

I was home quickly, chatted with the landlord, she gave me a tour of her restaurant - it is closed as she can't get anyone to be cook or waiter - there is no unemployment here at the moment! Then I got out some skýr, added milk, put in tons of blueberries, and sprinkled with brown sugar. Just delicious and well worth the hike!


In the news

Not much real news happens up here at 66 ° North (which is also the name of a great clothing label for stuff to keep you dry and warm), just south of the Arctic Circle, which is at 66° 33".

But when 15 crazy foreigners come up here to spend 2 weeks learning Icelandic - and spend lots of money on the local economy - it's news for the local rag, Bæjarins besta. (in Icelandic)

Nói albínói

I saw this film the first time at the Nordic Film Festival, maybe 2003 or 2004. I found it trivial, boring. Growing up teenager in remote, snowy part of the world. Is he wierd or a genius or what?

But yesterday we took a trip to Bolungarvík, a fishing village pretty much the Western tip of Iceland. The tour guide introduced the town as: if they ever try to make Iceland into just one town, there will be two places that don't participate - Westman Islands and Bolungarvík.

And tonight we watched Nói albínói. The first view is of the mountain - "That looks like here," I said. The teacher noted that it was Bolungarvík, and so it was. Suddenly, the film was much more interesting, as we recognized more and more bits of the town, but also some bits that didn't quite fit it, that were in other places around the Western Fjörds.

Still not a film for everyone, but was nice in combination with the trip yesterday. And we watched it in Icelandic with Icelandic subtitles, that was a big help.


Service - a foreign word in Iceland?

Iceland is a country not really known for being service-oriented. I don't just mean that many cashiers don't smile at you or won't make small-talk. It's things like the bus driver opening the trunk, but expecting you to get your suitcases out yourself, they are yours and he is only paid to drive the bus.

The shops are filled in the afternoons with sullen teenagers behind the cash registers who would rather be home watching movies on the radiation-disk in the sight-caster. They may or may not take their MP3-player-earphones out in order to sell you something. They may be on the phone discussing the party last Friday, which is more important than taking your cash for whatever it is that you want to buy.

We were invited out to dinner with a friend at a local fish restaurant. It is only open during the summertime, and the tables are long, Viking-like rows of wooden, hewn tables and benches. There is no menu. A young girl came up to ask what we wanted after she bangs down some glasses and a pitcher of water. We ordered 2 fish soups and 3 fried fish - this was confusing, didn't everyone need soup? No, one does not like fish soup. Okay, what kind of fish do you have today. She at least gets the fish-name-translation-card out and points to the fish they have today. Fine, we choose, and white wine with the fish.

We get some bowls plonked down, no problem, we can distribute them ourselves. Some bread comes, plonk. The wine comes - bang, bang, bang. We serve ourselves, no problem, and the soup is delicious. We sit around for a while with our dirty bowls, eventually the girl comes to pick them up. I say "that was very nice", she is rather shocked - she didn't ask me how I liked it!

We wait some more. We wait. Everyone else in the restaurant gets served. Our friend wonders if this was because he had a little spat with the owner last time over a bill that was never settled because the owner didn't write a bill at all, so it was never paid. "Send me a bill, and I will pay it," he had said. Finally he asked - turns out the girl forgot to tell the kitchen about the fish, only the soup. So we wait some more, and finally a wonderful pan of the most delicious fish I have ever eaten is bonged down in front of us, without a word. You want fish, you get fish, why bother with fancy words like "Enjoy your meal!"?

We go up to the cash register to pay and I try some more Icelandic - "that was really excellent fish!" The woman looks up in shocked surprise, I suppose I interrupted her while she was doing the sums.

Am I being silly? I was hungry, I wanted fish, I got fish to eat and it tasted excellent. What more do I want?

I do think, however, that if Iceland wants to increase their tourist return rate, they might want to start some courses in service-giving. I mean, if Berlin bus drivers can learn to speak English, surely Icelandic shop clerks can learn to smile and say some nice things.


Icelandic Course - Part 1

The Icelandic Course in Ísafjörður started Monday with 15 students of all ages, countries, and occupations. Many people are hard to nail down: "Well, I was born in X but lived in Y and I lived in Z before coming here and am continuing on to M!" or "I studied A but found B to be rather interesting, so I am working as a C in order to study B but with an emphasis on D".

I am a bit bored, but there is a good Internet connection .... I need pronunciation and vocabulary in order to shake off all that Swedish which invades my brain when I want to say something in Icelandic. It has been good to re-learn a lot of the all-purpose phrases and the way Icelanders get around all those horrible endings. They just say Èg ætla að and then slap on an infinitive ("I am in the process of doing" ) and this tends to expand widely to include things past and future, so you get around the horrible, awful inflection of the language.

I even ordered a hamburger in the hamburger station today and the guy asked me if I was from Reykjavik! Okay, I only needed about 3 sentences, but I seem to have managed to get them out pronounced right, so something is working, even if I really have trouble wanting to say something - it still comes out Swedish.

I am also getting better at puzzling out some articles in the newspaper. I delight in finding words I just learned the meanings of. Stígvél, climbing-machine, means boots. The teacher told me that this was an attempt to make sense of the German word "Stiefel".

The Icelandic people are just as allergic to foreign word influences as the French are. A computer is a tölva, a number-oracle; A stove is an eldavél, a fire-machine; alnæmi, too-sensitive-against-everything, is the word for AIDS; myndvarp, picture-thrower, is an overhead projector; geisladiskur, radiation-disk, is a CD-ROM; rafmagn, amber-power, is electricity; TV is sjónvarp, sight-casting. What fun! It seems, thought, that they do not have Icelandic words for either "party" or "to date" yet, although there is currently a contest going on amongst the teenagers to have them find the best word for "to date". My money is on something like "daijta".

We had a talk by a historian about Icelandic history. The short version is: dried fish, salted fish, frozen fish. The long version includes some Vikings and monks and bishops getting their heads chopped off and some witches (all but one a man) burned at the stake and one of the early pseudo-democracies in the world and some fish wars. Iceland does not want to join the EU because then everyone and his brother could come fish their waters, and they are already overfished. But they are considering using the Euro, although mostly Icelanders seem to like to argue with each other and this is a fun new topic to argue about.

There is also a lot of written history - the sagas, some family books, lots of church documents except for about 50 years after the plague hit Iceland with an English boat coming to port and two infected guys going to the yearly parliament meeting where they died after infecting everyone, who then went home to infect their neighborhoods. About a third of the population died (apparently, most of the people who could write) and the Danish king figured the place was a goner, so he offered the Icelanders land in Jutland if they wanted to come to Denmark.

They didn't. They like it here. They make fun of us for wearing wearing so many clothes when it is so warm (10 degrees C, they have open-toes sandals and no jacket on, even some bare midriffs and of course, T-Shirts) and raincoats when it is "not raining", i.e. you don't have to start swimming yet.

We had a field trip up the coast today, really stunning scenery. There's this fishing museum up the coast that has this guy who wears an old fisherman's costume (he's on all the tourist brochures) and explains how they caught sharks with rotten horse meat doused in rum and then used their livers for oil and buried the carcasses for 6 months, then dried them for another 7 before eating the meat - with lots of schnapps called "Black Death" to wash it down. He showed us the needles used to string the fish together (poke it through their eyes) and all sorts of other equipment, as well as some dried fish used to make interesting things.

We went on to a "Natural History Museum" that was a collection of stuffed animals and some stones. The birds were nice, we got to see a lot of birds we learn songs about (and when I look the birds up in the Wikipedia they have names like Whimple that I have never heard of before). They also had a flamingo. I gathered my vocabulary and asked the guy if they had flamingos in the area. "No", he says, "but there was once one that flew to the south by mistake." "And that's him?" "No, we found that one in a foreign country." And that was that. So he/she stands, next to a stuffed stork.


Ísafjörður Arrival

I flew to Ísafjörður on the "late machine" on Sunday. There are two flights a day from the Reykjavik provincial airport. The emphasis is on PROVINCIAL. I mean, there are signs saying you have to have your liquids in a clear bag and all, but gate 1 is right across from the cafeteria cashier and a guy takes your little boarding card and scans the bar code on it. You walk out and on to a nice, sturdy little plane. They even serve coffee during the 35 minute flight.

It was a clear, sunny day - what a view of the volcanic landscapes, the glacial lakes, the bits and pieces of snow still left on the mountain tops! The deep blue of the water, crystal clear, I swear I saw whales twice. In the sea are many rock islands, a few with houses on them even, and some boats were under way. Coming up to the Westfjörds there are very steep mountains and very narrow fjörds, you could see the shadow of the plane on the almost sheer mountainside and you wondered how ever they were going to land this thing.

Sure enough, there was a flat piece of land jutting out into the fjörd, it landed on that although up until a few seconds before landing I thought we were going to land on the water. This airport is even more provincial, if that can be imagined. There is a little window with a small roller thing, and some guy plucks the suitcases out of the plane and throws them through the window.

You go out the door - and there are the mountains. And a few cars. And a red thing that appears to be the bus. Tell the driver the name of the place you are staying, palm him a 500 krone note, and he'll drop you off at the door.

I have a nice little guest house, 5 rooms sharing a kitchen and 2 bathrooms. That's fine - it's cheap, too. The town is cute, there are a few stores, a swimming pool, a couple of churches and a lot of water around.

The school has Iceland's only outdoor badminton field in the inner court, and is a nice place. At the reception for the course we were shown around - regional development center, distance education rooms, offices, and: open WLAN. I love it!

On to learning more Icelandic!


La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc

It's "Culture Week" in Reykjavik, there are so many things going on in town it makes your head spin. A group called "Deus ex cinema" that shows films relating somehow to religion had a very special event set up - a midnight film in the cathedral, La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, a silent film from 1928 by a famous Danish filmmaker, Carl Theodor Dreyer, with live organ and Gregorian chants. The organ music was composed by Wilfried Kaets, a German organist, who was playing.

The cathedral has modern pews that can be turned facing the altar - for church - or facing the back, for cultural activites. There was a large screen hung and a beamer that was to backlight the screen with the movie, the organ had a monitor for the organist to better see without having to crane his neck.

The cathedral was full, maybe 200 people! They began late (we are, you see, in Iceland) - and the picture quality was horrible. I know it is a restauration, but I have seen bits before, it was not this bad. The picture on the organ monitor was much better - that meant the beamer was not correctly set up.

The quality was so bad, some people began leaving after 5 minutes. After 30 they interrupted the program to say that they needed to fix it. The organist was livid to be interrupted in his presentation! A guy got a ladder and started going through all the menus, playing with them, trying to get it correctly set up. He didn't try the one menu that would have fixed the problem, in my opinion.

As he was going through the menus for a third time, I couldn't sit still and went up to suggest that he try this menu he kept avoiding. "No, no," he said, "This is expensive equipment. That is not the problem." Translation: what does a woman know about beamers?

We watched them fiddle for another 15 minutes or so, then heard that they had decided the DVD was "broken" (although the picture was fine on the organ monitor) and they were going to burn a new one. Sigh. We got our money back, I thanked the organist (who was still fuming) and went home for a nice whiskey-cola before bed.

The Blue Lagoon

Had a wonderful flight to Iceland with the no-frills Iceland Express. It just works, efficient and on-time, no idea why (neither being a typical characteristic of Icelanders). There were clouds all over Europe, but when we flew over the eastern Icelandic coast there were clear skies and gorgeous views of the mighty rivers and glaciers as well as the Westmann Islands off to the south.

The descent into Keflavik was grand, I had my suitcases in no time and was out the door while the Icelanders were going through a tax-free shop to load up on alcohol within 20 minutes of touchdown! My friends were parked right outside with their jeep, and we took off for Bláa Lónið, the Blue Lagoon.

Blue LagoonThis is an environmental-accident-turned-spa. They were drilling for hot thermal water (used here for heating and generating electricity) and hit hot water all right - but salt water, and filled with a silica clay sand to boot. It was eerily blue, left white deposits, and kept gushing out. It would corrode metal in a flash, so they just let it run. Neighborhood youth ("neighborhood" being defined in Texas terms as "anyone within an hour's walk or drive" from the place) started swimming in it, and it was discovered that the waters had medicinal properties - cures many skin diseases.

Analysis turned up that algae were the reason for the blue color. And studies are to have shown that the waters are good for all sorts of things. So they built a spa, and the tourists came. So many came that they moved the spa a bit further down the road (just leaving the old one, looks really bizarre) with a large hotel and lots more space to float.

We had a wonderful afternoon, it was sunny and warm (read: 13 degrees C), the water was warm, warmer, boiling hot in places, and the new facility is really so large that it was nice despite the busloads of Japanese and American and English tourists floating around. Except maybe for overhearing their conversations: One American woman to another: "Iceland is on the Gulf Stream, it flows unter the island." Another American tourist: "I wonder where they import this gooey stuff from?"

Afterwards your skin is really soft and you feel very relaxed. What a wonderful welcome to Iceland!


The Shopping Channel

Do we have this in Germany? I remember it from the States, but I am never home during the day unless I am sick, and if I am sick I am not watching TV.

Anyway, I had to get the ironing done before packing for Iceland, and iron all those wonderful silk scarves I got done these past three weeks. I set up the board in the guest house where the TV is, and turned on the TV. Okay, we only get 3 channels (not like Bruce Springsteen sings, 57 channels and nothing on.... Two channels had test pictures, the third had the shopping channel on. It's better than nothing, so I let it rip.

The first item - advertised first in the original English, then with a Swedish commentator and Swedish phone number, then again in English with Swedish subtitles, and the final offer with extras stuff thrown in if you call within the next 15 minutes, and special telephone numbers for Denmark and Norway, too - was a steam iron.

Not your ordinary steam iron, but some miracle system that takes away odors and presses any material easily, just swish the nozzle over the cloth and it looks great. As I was ironing (and fussing at the weird corners some of my clothes have, this looked like something I really wanted, and only 990 Kronor, and a trial for 30 days! But no telephone here, so I took a pass on this.

Next up was an exercise bicycle for home use. It was easy on the joints! It trained all your muscles! It didn't take up much space! There were lots of before and after pictures of people who after using the thing for just 6 weeks were able to wear those modern tops that show off bits of your midriff. Well, I think I need one of those, too, but of course these are all just inflated claims. Then they interviewed Mark Spitz - for those of you too young to know, the won 7 gold medals in some Olympics many years ago (1972!), this good-looking hunk. He's now 56, but still looks great. Man, I had posters of him on my wall, just in a swimsuit with those 7 medals hanging around his neck. I was on the swim team, he was my idol! If he thinks this is a great thing, then I probably need one of these, too.

But again, the phone is in the other house, and I am too lazy to walk across. And anyway, I wouldn't be here when they deliver. How do you send back something like that, anyway? Won't fit in my mailbox, and won't easily fit at the post office at Konsum, either. You'd have to lug it back there in a massive box.

One to the next - a miracle, rechargeable, battery-operated floor sweeper. Works on carpet, on wood, on stone, swivels 360 degrees in both directions, picks up stuff you can't see, doesn't have a vacuum cleaner bag, which is an added plus. There are so many different kinds of - expensive - refills for VC that you sometimes have to buy a new vacuum cleaner because you can't get your hands on new bags. Anyway, this was so easy, even men could use it. Wow! And children loved it. And if you hurried, you would get two, and for an extra charge get one with a light on it.

Man, who makes all this great stuff? How have I lived without it up until now? Unfortunately, I was in the middle of fixing a scarf and you can't stop until it's done, so I missed calling on this one, too.

They must make a fortune.


Church and Handball

Drove to Malmö today, they were advertising three handball games in the Elitseries (major league?) with free admission. Since I would be driving to Malmö anyway, I decided to visit the Methodist church in Limhamn.

Only they were having services together with the Mission church. Okay, no problem, it will be interesting to see how it is different. *My*, how it is different. First off, Swedes (or perhaps just people from Skania?) who greet a stranger with a friendly smile, introduce themselves, and ask who you are and welcome you? Wow! I spoke with a few women before entering the church.

The cross is magnificent - a massive piece of wood with a Christ cut out of it in the middle, His arms uplifted. Turns out the designer of it is a member of the church. I spoke with him after church, he said that this is to represent Christ as the door, through which we reach the Truth. Of course, his Truth and mine are a tad different, as we will see in a moment.

The service is quite different, there is a lot of congregation participation (something I find good in principle). A bunch of songs are sung, and in between people come up and say something - what's on their minds, something they experienced - or they pray. There were many very good, very heartfelt witnesses, one responding to the women just before her. Then the artist came up. Seems he is a "Bible-true" person, but of course just the bits that suit him. The woman before had spoken of forgiveness for something evil done, and I found that good. Artist, however, felt that you didn't have to forgive Evil People, and the person in question was definitely Evil. And speaking of Evil people, that Dan Brown and his "DaVinci Code", that book should be banned....

It was rather fun that the sermon text was on forgiveness, and forgiving seventy times seven (or seventy or seventy seven, depending on the translations you read, but anyway much more than the Jewish three-times-I-forgive-you-then-you-are-an-enemy-for-life). Even Evil People should be forgiven. Seems like Artist needs some remedial Bible-reading this evening.

It was a *long* service (with all the witnessing and singing), but they served bread and cheese and cake and coffee afterwards, so that was all right.

On to handball, the stadium was just a few minutes drive away. The Baltic Hall is part of a Fifties collection of sports arenas, with a sports museum attached (unfortunately, closed on Sundays). Entrance was indeed free, and they had coffee and cake and hot dogs served in the cellar.

I saw four teams, HK Malmö, Lugi (Lund), Ystads IF, and Stavsten. The first three are in the Elitserien, the last one in the regional league (and they got soundly beat in all three games). It was pretty exciting handball, lots of extremely young guys, too. Ystad has this player, Philip Nilsson, who didn't look a day over 16 (the guys sitting in front of me from the Lugi team - good looking guys all around - said he was 19, I checked their home page when I got home, he turned 18 in January), who does the 7m penalty throws. He is amazing - a guy with skinny legs and arms (not like the big Viking-type guys playing for Malmö, all 6'6" or larger and about half as wide as they are tall) who cooly walks up to the 7m line, fakes a bit, and gets a goal just as if there was not a goalie anywhere near the goal. He throws over, under, left, right, curved, straight, magic. Only two of maybe 12, 13 attempts were actually caught by a goalie, one lucky glance at the ball to get it off course and one good guess that the ball was to go between his legs, he put his legs together and caught it on a jump before it hit something painful. A-maze-ing. The guy got to play a bit, too, as it was just an exhibition game. He plays left-6, that is, on the outside, where I play, where you can't do much damage. He is not very good from a game perspective, although he did get a few goals amongst many failed attempts.

The Viking-type guys were something. Malmö has three of them (the Icelander had played for Gummersbach), and they just set up this wall that is impossible for the guys a head shorter to jump over. Lugi managed, though, and managed after having played an hour beating Stavsten. 10 of the Lugi players have played on the national team, and they also have young'uns (like Kim Ekdahl du Rietz) who are also only 18 and have played on the national team. In the one game I saw with Lugi they came from 5 goals behind to beat Ystad by 4 goals. They are like steam engines, always on the run, and they never give up. Malmö also has this player, Christoffer Geissler, a smallish guy who specializes in stealing balls á la Christian Zeitz and getting goals. He got 13 (!!) in the last game. He is so fast, catches and throws well, and throws with such force, that the goalies cringe a bit, giving him enough room to fit the ball in.

For dinner I got a salad at one of the open grocery stores, drove out to the Limhamn harbor, and watched the owner of a very strange boat paint it. It is a catamaran with sails and a strange spaceship mounted on the catamaran. It is called the "Metamorphose".

The bridge to Copenhagen was in the background, the weather was nice - what a lovely day!


The Perseids

I was reading some blog, then followed a link to Bad Astronomy. He reminded me that the Perseid Meteor Shower was upon us.

Since the thunderstorms that were predicted for the area did not appear and we had nice clear skies, I got my sleeping bag (and a big maglite in case any wild animals showed up) and lay down up the hill with all the lights out. It is just magnificent to see all these stars - we don't seem to have them in Berlin :)

It did take about 20 minutes for me to see my first shooting star - and of course, make a wish - and then I kind of dozed off. Waking up I was about to go back in, but just then another one streaked past. I amused myself with making up new names for the constellations - The Lawnmower for the Big Dipper, The Inline Skate for the Peliades , The Sofa for Cassiopeia.

One more streaked by, then the mosquitoes got to be too bad. The newspaper today says that there are 48 different species of mosquitoes, which seems to be the national bird of Sweden. I swear, I have bites in my ears and on the inside of my nose..... So I packed in - this is my kind of camping, I can go home real fast anytime to a real bed with a bathroom and a kitchen!


Wonderful Copenhagen

My feet hurt. After getting the right foot badly sunburned yesterday I disregarded the pain and went to Copenhagen today. Now my ankles are swollen and there are strange red dots all over the place, I think I'll have to spend tomorrow with my feet up.....

Getting off the train at the main train station (which is under construction and a *mess*) I headed for the "Danish Design Center". On the way I passed a second-hand shop and got this really funny necklace that is a pair of old-lady glasses, only in miniature. I love crazy necklaces, and ones that only cost a few dollars don't need to be justified.

The Danish Design Center had some interesting exhibits. The first was a bunch of clothes designers - all, of course, with gorgeous clothes and shoes for women who wear size 32 or 34 - me, I weigh in at 44-46.... why on *earth* are there so few designers that make nice clothes for women my size? You really have to hunt, and there was nothing here.

There was a "store" in the cellar stocked with white, advertising-free jars and cans and cartons, all labeled with things not normally found in stores: patience; happiness; thinking about the world; clean air; clean water; nourishment; stuff like that. Unfortunately, most of the jars and cans were such that if you opened them to put something in, you would ruin it. So they were just meant to stand, empty and labeled, on a shelf. Strange, but I was not interested.

There was a little selection of "Identity" posters, this could have been much longer for my taste. There was also a room for the Danish Design Awards of 2007. The Stelton coffee can (I am on my second one now, I *love* them) was awarded a prize for still being popular and useful 30 years after it was first made - and the design is unchanged. That is good design. There was an interesting washing table and a dentist's chair and an outdoor gym with some interesting equipment on it. There was also a sofa, and you could try all of this out. The sofa was so uncomfortable, I don't know why it got a prize, but the rest were nice, including a font that was created for a new brand of beer at Carlsberg.

Then I walked - along Nyhavn, along the Stroget, went too far and hit Kongens Nytorv, wound my way back through an interesting part of town with lots of little shops in the cellars. One was in the Women's House, and there was a big sign on the door, flatly refusing entry to any men. They were selling clothes with the old women's symbol with the faust in it. Gee, I have one of those somewhere, I'd better dig it out - retro is in! I wondered how the shop handled transgendered persons....

I finally hit my beloved Fiolstrade, but oh my, the times have changed. Very few of the old shops still there. The book-cafe where one could sit and read political literature is a sandwich shop; The clothes shops I loved have been replaced by shops selling cheap clothes or trash or both. Here and there there is a little pearl (and I got something nice at Pink made by Two Danes) still to be found, but for the most part: not my style, not really original, either. I walked back along the Stroget, resisting the urge to get one of those nice Danish ice cream cones with three scoops of ice cream, strawberry sauce and whipped cream.

They have nice new tourist traffic lights that tell you how long you need to wait until the light changes again. Not that the tourists really stop much at lights. They stand around on the bike paths and get bells clanked at them, or they just cross in front of some big truck.

The trip back was horrible - I caught the 16.43 from Copenhagen to Kristianstad in Sweden - packed to the gills, and late (lucky for me). The reason was that Emil's mother was looking for him, so they spent 10 minutes trying to reunite the two. They didn't tell us if he got himself found. I stood the entire journey, couldn't hang on to anything, but that was okay, because you couldn't fall, there were so many people around you.

It was nice to sit down in the car for the ride home :)


More Bergmann

What a dilemma - now the sun is shining, but there is Bergman on TV every day....

Friday night they showed "Fanny and Alexander" - the 5-hour, 4-part TV version. But they didn't start until 9 pm, I didn't make it through. Really a lovely film, and well deserved of all those Oscars.

The weather was soooo nice on Saturday, I missed the last part of the documentary telling about Farö. Oh well, who cares.

Sunday they showed "Cries and Whispers", Bergman and Sven Nyquist's attempt to do a women's film, i.e. everyone is either wearing white or the walls are decorated red or someone is bleeding. Is that how men see women? Silly gooses, crying, whispering, or bleeding (or all of the above?). Still, some nice acting in there.

Monday we had "The Smiles of a Summer Night" - the one that one in Cannes about 50 years ago. A nice love story, first everyone is unhappy, then there is a nice happy end after some surprises (and shock for the viewers when they think the lawyer has killed himself playing Russian Roulette or the son tries to hang himself). The son looks like August Strindberg - this must be by design. A delightful film with the moral: love makes everyone happy.



Gawd. What a *funny* book, but I've loved everything I've read by Douglas Coupland. It is a bit corny that he has himself in the book as himself, but I guess that is supposed to be a bit of self-referencing.

I mean, how many current books have the first million digits of Pi printed in them? All of the prime numbers between 10,000 and 100,000? Some really, really screwed C++ code (okay, I understand that typesetters don't understand that you *cannot* change the lines around, closing them up or breaking them where ever in order to make it look nice. And backslash-else is not a command.)

This book is probably only really hilarious to geek-types like myself. I laughed myself silly over the line one of the women says when the main character's parents explode into really crazy craziness "Oh, right, I forgot that your family still runs on Windows." The really silly situations here are so great, that one's own crazy family looks absolutely sane by comparison!

Coupland's description of the Lesbian commune is so rich - how on earth did he manage to sneak into one in order to observe what goes on?? And the games played by games programmers (especially the google games) are hilarious. BTW, the Swedes have some new words: "bildgoogleat" means "to have googled for a picture".....

A must read for all geeks - don't let the size put you off. I finished it in 2 2/2 autistic days ....


But I trust Wikipedia!

Had a rather strange Wikipedia-experience last evening. We were having dinner with some friends a their beach house. Their teenager was expounding on all sorts of things, and giving the Wikipedia as a source.

I volunteered that I found the Wikipedia a great first-look resource, but not as a quoting source. His mother looked up and said: But don't they check all the information? I think it is a very reliable source.

Then the son chimed in with the history of the Wikipedia (sort of) and that they do have people checking facts, and that there is now a media collection called Wikimedia.... so I had to step in and correct: history, fact checking, Wikimedia (which is the Verein in Germany). He didn't believe me, after all, he is a teenager. I volunteered that I am, actually, a founding member of the Verein (and have actually shaken Jimmy Wales hand). But really, what do I know?

I'm kind of shaken that the average Joe does, indeed, trust the Wikipedia more than other sources. We have a lot to live up to.


Bítlaávarpið (Beatles Manifesto)

t's vacation time - time to read some books instead of just exercises and theses...

In anticipation of the Icelandic refresher course I'll be taking the second half of August I decided to read Einar Már Guðmundsson's Beatle's Manifesto in Swedish. My Icelandic is so rusty, I don't think I can do this in Icelandic, and it's not translated into English or German. Kind of wierd, though, to be reading about Iceland in Swedish. But the translator did a good job, there are many bits that are quite of Icelandic flavor.

Einar Már. One of the "bad boys" about my age who write books or make films or both. Apparently, they all pretty much went to school together, my Icelandic friend Bina was in the same class as Einar Már, she showed me her school yearbook and I had a good laugh at all of the guys she went to school with.

Anyway, it is a typical book of this type, I suppose. Short chapters - 3 to 5 pages - because guys don't have long attention spans. Lots of silly trouble he and his pals got into. Lots of pissing - don't take bottles of "Sinalco" from young guys that don't have their caps on tight, you may be in for a not-so-sweet bottle of liquid. Actually, one of the pissing stories actually made me laugh (normally I just find them gross). A guy was pissing - illegally - against the wall in a drunken state. A cop tapped him on the shoulder, and he turned around to face the cop, still pissing, and wet the trouser leg of the cop.

And then there is the love factor, Helga. He actually writes something of sense at the end: no matter how bad boys treat girls, if they are in love with them nothing can shake them. He himself is quite in love with Helga, but manages to make a monkey out of himself innumerable times (most especially in the final episode).

I read the book about 4/5 of the way through, then there were more exciting things to do: clean the house, cut the grass, do the laundry. But I don't like non-finished books, so I finished it off today. Okay, Einar Már, we've had lots of little boy and growing-up boy and teenage boy stories from you. Now that you are middle aged, can you write about anything else? I'll check out the bookshops when I get to Iceland.


Forest gold - expensive, tasty summer mushrooms that like cool, rainy weather. Yup, got lots of that around. And the lawn is just full of chantarelles. I didn't cut the grass under the birch trees, where there are just tons of them this year.

I have had three big meals of cantarelles already: Chicken with Asparagus and Chantarelles, Chantarelle and Cheese Omlette, Pepper Steak and Chantarelles. Just goes with everything.

And instead of going out into the woods, eyes sharpened for a glint of gold under the birch trees and evergreens, I just walk down towards the shed, bend down and start cutting, fighting the mosquitoes guarding the 'shrooms. Within minutes I have a box full of them, ready to clean and fry. They look - and taste - much better than the dried-out-at-the-edges stuff you get for lots of money in the shops.

At least one good thing to come out of the bad weather this summer!


"The Seventh Seal" and "The Summer with Monika"

Still glued to the TV.

I realized that I had seen the "Seventh Seal" on TV in the US when I was a teenager. I didn't understand the film then, but I really liked all the Medieval stuff. I hadn't realized it was Swedish.

It goes heavy on symbolism, and has some really good photography that turns out to have been good luck. The eerie light that shines down on the corpse robber just after he himself dies of the plague was Bergman seeing that the clouds were moving and not giving his usual "Thank you" as a cut order after the scene, but just letting precious film roll. Today something like this is done in post-production, but for the time it was quite a stroke of luck.

The famous Danse macabre in the next to last scene is actually done with grips and tourists, the web site says. They were packing up, the actors had already left for their hotel, when a strange light and a strange cloud appeared. Bergman had the camera put back up, rounded up 7 people, put costumes on them and had them dance on the top of the hill as silhouettes.

The Summer with Monika caused quite a stir when it was released, as Harriet Anderson actually disrobes and flashes a bit of breast and a lot of bare bottom at the camera. The story is rather corny - boy and girl, fed up at home, steal a boat with an endless supply of gas and load up a few supplies for an entire summer of bliss on the islands east of Stockholm, discovering the bodily pleasures in the process. There is an ugly scene when they decide they need food other than mushrooms and steal something from a house on a nearby island, and another one where some guy tries to set their boat on fire and he and Harry get into a fight. But other than that, it never rains and life is grand!

Anyway, they go back home, Monika is pregnant, Harry gets a good job, Monika gets bored and takes a lover, they quarrel, Harry slaps her, she leaves, Harry carries on with the baby, heroic single father. Feminist critics are divided over whether or not this is a good movie - some say it is great because Monika leaves - others hate the stereotypes shown here.

As one of the papers put it: Generations of Swedes have had to combat the stereotype of being Swedish that Bergman projected in his films. The women as sexy babes, disrobing in an instant (actually, Swedes are ashamed of being naked in public outside of a sauna and won't even change into a bathing suit at the beach without putting a towel around themselves and doing a silly dance to get into/out of the suit); men willing to do anything for their children (there are some, but not the majority); smokers, the lot of them (actually, it's the Danes that smoke like there is no tomorrow); gorgeous women marrying ugly men, good-looking guys with the plain Janes. And on and on and on.

And, of course, Bergman, that randy dog, also slept with this leading lady. Seems at one time he had 4 women more or less at the same time....

The next film is not until Saturday, I suppose I shall have to get some work done....

P.S. changed the spelling, Monika is spelled with a "k" in the original.