Arnaldur Indriðason

It's the Berlin Mystery Story Week, and the guest country this year is Iceland. They are having Icelandic authors reading in the back rooms of bars all over Berlin.

I had my calendar marked in red for this evening, as Arnaldur Indriðason, the author of the book I am currently reading (in Icelandic!) was to be reading, with bad-guy actor Claude-Oliver Rudolph reading the German.

The place was packed - all sold out half an hour before starting time, so they started early, something very uncommon for anything Icelandic who tend to be very nonchalant about things like times. I was there in time to get a seat in the front row (lucky me, Germans are shy) with a friend who also is a fan whom I met coming in the door.

Arnaldur began by reading a few pages in Icelandic as fast as his tongue could carry him. I was only able to pick out a few words here and there, but the melody of Icelandic was there.

Then Rudolph began reading the German. Rudolph is a guy pushing a big, wide, sunglasses-wearing-in-the-dark ego in front of him. He seems to love this bad-boy demeanor. But oh boy, does he ever have a good voice! It is a pleasure to listen to him, except that he mispronounces the Icelandic names - constantly! All Icelandic words are stressed on the first syllable, not the second. We can forgive him not being able to hack the nd and ð and ll and what-not. But he could have at least practiced the stress.

It was an interesting story, I need to read more (which is, of course, the point of these things, get folks to buy the books).

During question time it was much easier to understand his Icelandic. The woman from the embassy unfortunately did not know his works and had to struggle with the translations. But we did get a nice feeling for his character - he seems to be a very funny guy, a bit crazy perhaps, but you have to be to write all these murder mysteries about a city that doesn't actually have murders.

I queued up with the rest of them to get my book signed afterwards. I don't normally do this, but I am slaving away at deciphering the Icelandic, so I decided to get this stamp of approval on it. It's only the paperback edition (and pretty dog-eared by now), but since I asked in Icelandic I got it addressed to me "with best greetings".

Got two pages read through without using a dictionary this evening!!


Bought a Barbie Princess

One of my princesses had her fifth birthday today! We had a nice video conference by Skype with her and the the other two princesses bouncing around on the bed while Princess Papa tried to hold the camera on the laptop stable. They're going to have a party with pizza and movies and were all excited.

Since WiseWoman is not all that wise about remembering birthdays (I need a calendar application that bongs me on the head a week in advance!), there was no present from me there. I asked the Birthday Princess what she would like to have. She screamed into the microphone: A Barbie!!

A Barbie. That paragon of bad body image for girls. The horrible gender stereotypes this figure perpetuates. I would prefer to get her a drill and a hard-hat or a train set. But it's her birthday after all. And I had a lot of Barbies I loved to play with and look at me, I turned out all right, didn't I?
(Ahhh, that red satin ball gown with the fur trim I got one Christmas, that was just incredible!).

So I surfed over to Amazon to get a Barbie. Shudder. There are princess Barbies. Prince Kens. Barbie can even have a job now: Art teacher, baby photographer or pet sitter. Wow. I slogged through pages and pages of expensive clothes. There was a nice western garb for Ken, but I remember they don't fit Barbie very well.

There were sets: Barbie in the bedroom, Barbie in the kitchen, Barbie's hot tub, Barbie's convertible. At least the first two had an "African-American" Barbie option. She has black hair (don't find her very dark).

I gave up on trying to find a Barbie-as-archeologist or Barbie-as-chemist set (although there was a vintage, 1984 Barbie-graduates-from-vet-school with a dog for about 65$). I got a princess. A battery-operated one that sings an annoying song and has peacock-feathers on a cape that open and shut and fall out. Her dress is nice, though.

And then I got a nice book about animal tails to go along with it.


They are just bored

We read daily in the papers about all the horrible things teenagers do every day: smoke and drink themselves to death, take drugs, beat up people, steal, deface buildings and subway trains, and other amusements. The older ones kill themselves in their cars by driving too fast while under the influence.

Why is this? Sure, every generation bitches about the youth of today. That old Greek Hesiod is supposed to have said "I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words... When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint."

Okay. But I have recently spent time observing what young people have to amuse themselves other than the above listed things. Note: school does not count.

Nothing. There is just nothing to do. They are bored.

There are no fields in town that need harvested. No tractors they can prove themselves by driving around without other vehicles in the area. No real work to do, no adults taking them seriously. Nothing interesting to look at, to experience, to enjoy, to talk with your pals about - unless you have lots of money to rent a go-cart for the afternoon. Even the swimming pools - should they still be opened and not closed because of disrepair - are very expensive to attend. Even with money, we walked around a part of town Sunday with a teenager, looking for something to do. We ended up eating in a restaurant, that was all we could find.

Sure, there are a few, a very few, youth centers in town. But there are no empty lots around. I spent many hours as a child in the woods or on an empty lot playing all sorts of games. I borrowed books from the library, was lucky that my family could afford music lessons, attended clubs at school and activities at my church. There was always a choice of things to do, I was never bored (okay, that's probably why I am a hyperactive person always doing 7 things at once, but that's another story).

They can't even learn to cook - who cooks anymore? We just zap in the microwave.

So they watch TV, listen to garbage on the radio, hang out, drink, and do stupid stuff with their buddies. I think we need to come up with some things to do with and for teenagers very soon. They will be running the country in a very few years.....


Random bitching at students

Recent notes from the Time-To-Grow-Up department:

  • Today was the fourth lecture of the term. Student A had already generously let me know that he would be unable to attend my lectures as he was working as a tourist guide. Today he came up to me to announce that he did not have a lab partner and could I assign him someone. I bitched: That's your problem to solve.
  • My tutor reported that attendance at the tutorials (offered so that people with questions on the material can prepare together) has been extremely low, i.e. one showed up last week. Student B came up during the break (as I was having some lunch) to ask me questions about the upcoming lab. "That's what the tutorial is for, " I said. "Oh, but there is no more tutorial before the lab," he replied. "You should have started preparing early and been there last week."
  • Student C comes to me before the lecture as I am madly connecting cables and pressing buttons and trying to sort out the mess of electronic equipment I sometimes use in class. He needs my signature. Well, my office hours are Thursday. Oh, but he has to work Thursday. I reply that I have to work right now. He doesn't get it. "I just need your signature." "No." "But I need your signature!!" [Louder, into the microphone] "Not now. Come to office hours." He storms out.
There will be more to come.


Back to the 50's

There's a lot of this going around - 50th birthday parties. I suppose it happens a lot when you yourself turn 50. Anyway, a friend was celebrating out in the countryside with a 50's party for lots of friends, family and neighbors.

We were asked to bring 50's food - I chose a horrible-sounding meatloaf with a mustard merangue coating that actually tasted delicious. And a quick look through my closet showed the wisdom of my extensive second-hand shop purchases - there was a lovely blouse and jacked combination in zebra, which paired with my favorite black skirt, my grandmother's hat, my mother's watch and some assorted rhinestone jewelery fit beautifully. Don't know if I am brave enough to post a pic, though.

We enjoyed the food and the typical German fruit punches and danced to lots of 50s music. I sat with two computer scientist friends, each of us in a fancy dress, and discovered we all had nail polish on. Normally, we run around in jeans and without makeup - who has time for that? I dared the other two (who had chosen red, I had purple on, matching my sash) to wear their nail polish to work tomorrow. One said "No way!", the other was considering it. Me? I'm to lazy to scratch it off. Wonder what the response will be :)


The Solution: Grubby T-Shirts

I hit upon a great solution to the being-assumed-a-secretary problem by chance today. And no, it does not involve wearing Gucci suits. It is much cheaper.

I wear strange, rather grubby, T-Shirts.

See, the new dean is most comfortable in a white T-Shirt. And I have lab on Wednesdays. The lab is freezing cold, so wearing a skirt would involve risking a bladder infection. And since I usually end up crawling under tables to sort out electrical troubles, both panty hose and a skirt would pose problems. So for lab I usually have a T-Shirt, my vest-with-a-thousand-pockets, and a sweater to keep me warm. And since I was meeting with the dean after lab, I figured a T-Shirt would be spot on.

Today was a handball day (the Füchse did look like they grew an inch over the past weeks, but they still only scored 5 goals in the first half. Heck, my team can usually manage 5 goals a half....). So I decided to wear a really strange, spooky handball T-Shirt that you have to think about for a second before you get what it says. A colleague (female) noted at lunch that she would not be caught dead in such gear...

But I spent all afternoon in the dean's office and no one thought I was a secretary. Students rather took a step back in my presence and were deferential. So I guess if you are an oldish person in an outrageous T-Shirt, you are so weird that you must be important. And not a secretary.

Lucky me, I have a big pile of strange T-Shirts in my closet. And now an excuse to buy more :)


Pickled in Brine

Ahhhh, lovely. Spent the day at the Spreewald Therme near Cottbus. Their ads use lots of grey-haired people, but there were a fair amount of younger ones there.

It was a gorgeous, sunny day, about 15 degrees C outside, and there is a salt-water pool outside there. The place has lots of different pickling solutions, each pool is marked with temperature and brine content. They had some cute stuff like two pickle barrels (the area is famous for pickles), one with a steam bath of brine and one with a brine fog - both just lovely for the airpipes.

The sauna area had heated tiles in a very comfortable, reclining position in the caldarium, I actually dozed off. The vitamin bar had an open fireplace crackling (a real one, not a gas flame) that made for a very cozy atmosphere.

Two friends gave me the day together for my birthday. We had a grand time, although I am sure people were rather disconcerted to hear these "old ladies" talking about agile programming and other computer stuff. We had a great discussion on the way home about the "Bundestrojaner", the intention of the government to secretly search private PCs to find "terrorists". Although we did not agree on whether it was okay for the government to do this or not, we did agree that we did not think it was technically possible at this time - I mean, come on, we don't even have browsers that work well on all possible platforms, how are they going to get a virus to do that?

Anyway, I am now quite pickled (and I do not mean drunk!) from all that salt. I shall sleep well tonight!


Excuse me!

Today I was officially named vice dean, even if I've been filling in the position unofficially for some weeks and officially since last Monday. Today was the official reception after we all got our fine pieces of paper telling us who we are.

So I wore a skirt today instead of the scruffy pants and striped shirt with a vest I normally like to wear. I did have the vest on, though, as it puts an additional 5 pockets at my disposal.

The strange guy who is always making weird comments noted that I looked geared for battle, he thought my fanny pack looked like an ammunition belt and my vest like part of battle dress. I guess it is green, but I didn't have any (visible) knives or guns on me....

Was then in the dean's office pouring over some nasty paperwork, and when that was done I left the office in some disgust over lazy colleagues who make extra work for everyone. I just closed the door behind me when a broad-shouldered guy and a gal approached me. He said: "Here's someone who can help" and launched into a complicated story about the girl. It took some minutes for me to realize that he thought I was a secretary and wanted me to change exercise sections for the girl. I put on my raised-eyebrow face and suggested they contact the secretary in charge of sorting out messes (who is a man!) who just happened to be coming out the door. Puzzled looks all around.

At lunch I told the story to a colleague, noting that I even had a skirt on and a fancy necklace. The colleague suggested I get a Gucci or Armani suit. It that what it takes for people to assume that (older) women they meet are professors and not secretaries? At least more than half of the new professors, who were also at the reception, are women - three cheers for this!