Posts

Showing posts from December, 2008

Dawning of a new day

I have never made New Year's Resolutions, but this year I think I will make one, and stick to it. I resolve not to write another blog entry unless I have completed a work-related assignment/project. Since starting this blog, it turns out I have not been terribly productive. I've made some progress here and there on the exhibit or editing work and translating, a bit on my own research, but by and large, much less has made it out the door than I expected during the last six months, and I'm feeling a bit apish. So, while I really enjoy writing my blog, I've decided to reserve it as a special treat I get to do when I finish something. I'm sure my readers--the few, the proud--will understand. Plus, 2009 is going to be absolutely fabulous, whether or not I comment on its happenings, of this I am sure.

Paris and me

I certainly like Icelandic hamburgers, no doubt about it, Villi burgur in Keflavik being my favorite. But today I bit into a Western Bacon Cheeseburger from Carl's Junior, and all the happy memories of years spent chomping down on that sandwich came flooding back. The onion rings are crunchy, the bun soft, the hamburger juicy, the cheese melty, and the barbeque sauce tangy. It is a taste and texture extravaganza, and one is sure to need a napkin or two afterwards. And I am not even talking about the big mouth version, made famous by Paris Hilton during a Superbowl ad spot for Carl's Junior. That ad featured her washing a shinny antique car in a skimpy bathing suit while devouring a big mouth guacamole burger; it was considered so risque that people across the U.S. demanded it be pulled from the airwaves. This would never happen in Iceland.

2 to 3

I thought of one thing I really miss about the States when I'm in Iceland: iced tea. It just takes 2 or 3 minutes to steep the bags, then an hour or so to chill, and whala! A refreshing treat. Must make a habit of fixing some when I get back to icyland.

Ant hills

Driving down a country rode in Georgia, my eye lingered on a field full of small piles of loose, red dirt. Must have been about 50 of them, on a 3 acre field. Then I started noticing these piles of dirt everywhere, and was completely puzzled. Were they gopher holes? Some sort of irrigation technique? It wasn't until I asked Dave's mom that my worst fears were confirmed: they were ant hills. I suppose I have spent too much time in bug-free Iceland, because insects were the furthest thing from my mind. But I should have remembered the particularly tenacious red fire ants of Georgia from my wedding. We got married out at Dave's uncle's farm, and had done our best to rid the field of ant hills the day before, but still, one showed up in the middle of the reception area, just in time to make my sister vacate her seat. I guess the Icelandic equivalent would be getting married at Lake Myvatn just in time to have a swarm of gnats fly by. Knowing me, I would probably forget ab…

No emergency measures needed

The other day, Arnold Schwarzenegger held a press conference wherein he declared California bankrupt. I had to laugh at the irony of living simultaneously in two economies, both of which are technically bankrupt. But the California bankruptcy is actually of a different stripe than the Icelandic one. It was, to put it simply, purposely caused by Governor Schwarzenegger, and is not any sort of shocking surprise. Rather, it is a necessary corrective to a longstanding problem in the governance of California. Proposition 13, which was passed in the late 70s, artificially and severely limited the ability of the California legislature to raise taxes. Over time, this has destabilized California's entire infrastructure, including roads, schools, social programs, state parks, everything. "The Terminator" is forcing a showdown with the California legislature, particularly with his own fellow Republicans, in order to finally be able to raise taxes. This will be a great benefit for t…

13 to 1

My sister has managed to get the 13 jóla lads to come to visit her daughter in the United States, and I was thinking of trying to do the same for my son. But this year I did not quite manage. I´m hopeful about next year though, since I think in this, as in everything else, Iceland is far superior to the United States. 13 times better seems a reasonable way to quantify it. 
Best wishes to everyone, near and far, no matter which Santa(s) you believe in.

Merry Christmas!

It is highly unlikely I'll be blogging on Christmas day or the days right before or after, but still I wanted to pass on greetings to everyone. So, here are some videos I was showing my son, to teach him the Christmas carol "We Wish You a Merry Christmas!" And in case anyone misses Kermit D. Frog as much as I do, here is a bonus.

Anything and Everything

Christmas shopping in south Georgia must count for some people as a journey to Mecca. There are stores everywhere, any chain one could imagine is represented here, and all nicely arranged in pleasant little strip malls. I've now spent enough time in Iceland to find this huge selection of shopping options overwhelming, and rather miss having some natural limits placed on my choices. 
On the other hand, one book store here had an entire section devoted to a genre I had never heard of before: Christian fiction. These are romances, basically, or historic novels, with a biblical message or theme. I now consider myself enriched by a new appreciation for 1 Corinthians 7, and the Song of Solomon.

Bible Belt

Yesterday I went to an authentic Born Again Christian church service. I know there are some Born Agains in Iceland (though not as many as say Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons), but there are no churches like this one. 2,500 members, services held in two large barn-style buildings with the preacher's sermon televised on big screens all around. The rock band that started out the service was very good, especially nice since they were accompanied by a choir. Christian Rock is big business down here in the South (and actually, over much of the U.S.).  
The preacher was laid back, relaxed, funny, smart, and I found him very inspiring (of course, I cry everytime I go to church, so that alone was not the main indication). He seemed exactly suited to the calling he was following, which I think was the most reassuring thing about it. In the right circumstances, a teacher or a preacher can be more affective at changing the world than anyone else, just by the wisdom of their words and the co…

The Obamas

Couples like the Obamas, where the man and the woman are equally matched, met early in life, and have both enabled the success of the other, seem to me more rare in the United States than in Iceland, where people seem to couple up early, and where there is a lot of pressure on women to be equals. But then I read a wonderful article in Miller-McCune recently, about a husband who listened to his wife's concerns about her patient's lack of money for disposable diapers, and agreed to help her start a foundation. They weren't a power couple, they were just two normal individuals who saw eye to eye on the importance of charity. I haven't heard the equivalent of that in Iceland, a country whose charitable ethic is a bit behind the American one (a direct consequence of having a weaker form of capitalism for a long period of time). That little story made me feel a bit better about being a 50/50 sort of gal.

On princesses

I feel I've spent enough time with little Icelandic girls to have the general impression that they are not as obsessed with Disney princesses as American little girls are. It was amazing how many of the girls at Disney World, in 80 degree weather, we dressed in princess gowns. And of course there was a dizzying array of "Disney Princess" products. All of these feature three princess in particular, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Belle. There is indeed a meta narrative logic to this triad, one which I think would even translate into the Icelandic experience. Sleeping Beauty is the oldest film, and here the princess is very passive, in fact she sleeps through most of the story while the prince battles an evil witch, who can even transform into a really frightening dragon. Cinderella is slightly active, but still clearly a submissive figure (a maid afterall), though the narrative is moved forward by her standing up for herself, insisting she be allowed to go to the ball. T…

Lost and Found

Yesterday at Disney World, I lost my wallet. More correctly, my son threw my wallet out of my purse without me noticing it. When I finally did realize it, I was actually very calm. Because the fact of the matter is, I knew my wallet would be turned in. Afterall, I was in Disney World, the safest, most controlled, cleanest, most organized, most staffed with conscientious employees place on the planet.  Indeed the wallet was at Lost and Found when I checked in there a few hours later, just as I expected it to be. The quiet confidence of absolute security. 
Now, my normal luck with wallets is much worse. I have had one stolen out of my bag on the Bart in Berkeley, and I had my entire purse stolen from a cafe at the Smithsonian, neither of which were ever returned. I have never lost my wallet or had it stolen in Iceland, but I did leave my bank card at a store one time, and had a phone call on my cell phone within a half hour, telling me I had done so, even before I realized it. This seeme…

Amusing lessons

It occurs to me, as I'm here in Disney World, that Iceland lacks amusement parks. I'm a big fan of amusement parks, particularly roller coasters. Roller coasters are specifically designed to push the physical limits of the riders, and require the riders to basically place their lives in the hands of the unseen engineers. This leap of faith, this willingness to trust another, is a good lesson to learn. 
Now, not all the rides at Disney World are so exciting. Today we went on a much tamer ride, a boat ride through an experimental green house at Epcot Center, a ride called "Living with the Land." This ride was more obviously trying to teach a lesson, one about caring for the environment. The introduction included a wall of quotes, even one from George Bush, which was a hoot, and a couple of brilliant ones from school age kids. But my favorite was a classic, from Sir Francis Bacon: "You can only govern mother nature by obeying her."

Walt's World

I'm now on leg three (out of six) of my Christmas perambulations around the United States, a stop at Disney World in Orlando Florida to see an exhibition at Epcot I curated for the Norway Pavilion that has been up for about 2 years now.   
For an intellectual, even an American intellectual, I have a decidedly uncritical attitude toward Disney.  There are sentimental, emotional reasons for this -- I grew up nearby Disneyland and have many fond memories of it from my childhood -- but as I've gotten older it has become more about a profound respect for Walt Disney himself. He had drive, creativity, a desire to imagine the world in a completely new way, and the confidence to see that through. I know there are people who have done more radical things in their lives, but Walt, in my mind, attained perfection in what he set out to do, and then did. The critiques leveled at Walt Disney stem from the fact that other people tried to take over his vision and in so doing over commercialize…

On gangs

I spent today in Berkeley before heading off for the next bought of travels, and had to do some errands. One entailed going to a store two towns north of here, in Richmond, which used to be "the murder capital of the United States." There was a group of youths standing outside the entrance, in gang attire, and one had a tear drop tatoed on his face, a sign he had killed someone. I walked right through the middle of them, because, as a matter of fact, I spent one summer hanging out with some gang members in Southern California. They stole cars and I think dealt drugs, one of them is serving a life sentence for being an accomplice to a murder. Of course, Orange County gangs are not like LA gangs, but still it occurs to me, I would never had had this chance to broaden my cultural horizons, had I just lived in Iceland my whole life.

Jury duty

Today I have to report for jury duty. This would never happen in Iceland, since they do not have trial by a jury of one's peers (although the traditional Viking Age Althingi was basically that). These days, I'm not exactly sure who oversees the findings of the police in Iceland, but I do know there are unsolved cases due to lack of evidence. So Iceland is not a banana republic in the sense of buy-offs and unfounded jailings, nor in the sense of persecuting the innocent just to save face and maintain order.

Environmentalism

I asked a friend of mine if the protests in Iceland were getting a lot of press in Denmark, she said no, and then asked me, "What are the Icelanders protesting? Capitalism?" In a way, besides the specific complaint about elections not being called, that seems to be exactly what they are protesting, capitalism.

I am realizing this week just how fundamentally the Berkeley response to capitalist excess has affected me. In Berkeley, a radical environmental ethic has been fused with capitalism in a way that seems extremely empowering to me: anyone with the means to make choices about what products they buy can fundamentally affect the system. I noticed it when I was down in Southern California recently; few of the large grocery chains there carry 100% recycled paper products or free range chicken, but every single grocery store in the Bay Area has 100% recycled paper products, and several of them have free range chicken.

Consumers in Iceland certainly have not made individual choic…

The great normalizer

When I finished elementary school, half my class went to one junior high, the rest of us somewhere else. At the end of junior high, half the kids went to one high school, the other half somewhere else. When highschool was over, it was rare if even three or four of us went on to the same college. This has had the cumulative affect of meaning that almost no one stays in touch with anyone they have known since school days.

I have always thought this was an advantage of California over Iceland, where one is extremely likely to be running into all of one's ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends and highschool rivals, etc., ad nauseum the rest of your life. The drama and the trauma of those days does not die as quickly in Iceland as in California, I surmised. Facebook is, however, making some headway into normalizing this difference between Iceland and California; now Californians can also relive highschool dramas and traumas anytime they like, just by logging in.

Squirrels

I realized today that one thing that makes Iceland seem like such a strange, foreign place is that it has no squirrels. After hearing the rustling of branches overhead walking across campus, I was reminded of how delightful they are. I have never been anywhere else where these cute, aggressive, intelligent, daredevils don't rule the trees, from Southern California to Ohio to Washington D.C., straight across the pond to England and Germany. Even worse is that I'm not sure how prayers get delivered up the World Ash in a land without squirrels.

Moving the chains

I must profess being profoundly happy to be back watching American football; between the college games and professional games, there is something almost every day of the week. Baseball is, as I've mentioned before, the root of more American metaphors (stepping up to the plate being my favorite) but really I think football captures the American ethic more. In my opinion, the game is about striking just the right balance between strategy and bravado. Some people are fooled by teams like the Dallas Cowboys, who have a lot of bravado, and others relish the work-a-day consistency of the Steelers, but I have been and remain a 49ers fan. Their fundamentals are sound, and I know at any minute, they could pull off a miracle.

On allegory

Though the talks I attend in Iceland are certainly enjoyable, the theoretical discussion afterwards in the meat of the matter is really exceptional here at Berkeley. For instance, yesterday we were debating the degree to which structure rather than content can determine whether or not a novel is intended to engage, in the sense of encouraging the reader towards a specific action. Allegorical novels are typical understood as more intellectual, and less emotional, but the speaker yesterday argued for exactly the opposite, because that way each reader can make there own meaning. Not everyone's idea of revolution is the same.

Bundling up

When I was in elementary school, leg warmers were all the rage (thanks to Flashdance). The style was to wear them over jeans. One morning I woke up, heard it was "only" going to be 70 degrees that day, and decided to be super stylish. By mid-morning, I had to remove my leg warmers, just to stop from passing out owing to heat stroke.

It seems Californians are still stretching the meteorological necessity for cold-weather clothes. Yesterday driving through a busy shopping district late in the evening, I noticed many people wearing striped knit caps, just like people wear in Iceland. But it was 65 degrees out.

Free speech

I find it ironic that I should be in Cal Berkeley, the home of the free speech movement, while protests take place in Iceland, a country not known for revolution. Especially since Cal has lost some of its radical edge. When I was an undergraduate here, there were numerous protests on campus, against racism and war mongering, even against legal requirements to wear clothing. Now, don't get me wrong, there is still the guy in the middle of campus talking about damnation and conspiracy theories, and still people that gather on the lawn of west campus everyday to hold a peace vigil, plus there has been some vandalism targeted at the Chancellor's new marketing campaign, plastered all over campus. But I've been worried about the lack of real student mobilization movements. 
Today sitting at the Free Speech cafe, reading a poster about the upcoming lecture by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. on his dedicated efforts to protect the American environment (especially river ways and the native p…

It's a Wonderful Life (Insurance Policy)

Yesterday, I received a statement from the Social Security Office informing me that, as it stands now, my monthly retirement payments will be $470/month. However, if I were to die, my family would get $2134 per month. Dave then informed me that he has taken out a $200,000 life insurance policy against me as well. This reminded me of the line in "It's a Wonderful Life" where Mr. Potter says to George, "You are worth more dead than alive" when George tries to use his life insurance for collateral. This makes George decide to jump off the bridge, which of course spurs Clarence into action.

I don't know if this film gets shown ritually in Iceland during December the way it does in the U.S., but it occurs to me it may not for a number of reasons: it is an old black and white film, Jimmy Stewart is a bit goofy, and it is set in small town America. Now I'm wondering if it might also be because purchasing life insurance does not seem to be nearly so common in I…

Office of the President Elect

January 20th is when Barack Obama will be sworn in as President of the United States, but in a rather unprecedented move, he has been holding almost daily news briefings, standing behind a podium marked, "The Office of the President Elect". As far as any of us Americans can recall, no previous President Elect has done such a thing. But although he, as of yet, has absolutely no constitutional authority, none of us seem to be minding too much. There was an a definite power vacuum in the United States for the last 6 to 9 months; George Bush seemed unprepared for the quick collapse of the banking sector, to say the least. (And in my opinion, when he met with Barack a week after the election, Bush asked him to take a leadership role now rather than waiting.)

In Iceland, there also seems to be a definite power vacuum; the government that is in authority is not respected and has increasingly shown the failure of its policies and made itself the subject of ridicule, the longer it tr…

Spanish channels

Here in California, just about every children's program includes a sprinkling of Spanish words. And it seems the number of exclusively Spanish language stations has continued to increase, up to about 10 as far as I can tell. The nice thing is that although I have not studied Spanish for coming up on 20 years, I can still understand the dialogue of a Spanish soap opera without even trying. I'd like to say this is because my linguistic skills are really extraordinary, or that I'm such an astute student of human interpersonal relations that I can understand it without even understanding the words, but rather I think it is just that soap opera dialogue is ridiculously simple.

The OC

Over the last five years or so, Orange County, or specifically coastal southern Orange County, has become a favored place for projecting an idealized life by television executives. Those of us who grew up there have to confront this in a myriad of ways, to question whether we wish to adopt the rhetoric of the fantasy or take up debunking of the myth.

On Saturday, me and three of my high school girl friends met for lunch in Newport Beach, where we dined outside, feeling the warm ocean breeze, had some margaritas, and talked about my appearance on a TV program recently (a documentary about the Vikings), my friend greenlighting a film at her production company, the advantages of living in OC over living in Hawaii, and the great business opportunities in the recession.

Um, so, I guess I have to admit, that although it all seemed perfectly normal to us, there may be some reality to the OC myth. But I'm still not quite ready to say it is the place where "dreams really can come true.…

Two, Four, Six, Eight

Yesterday I drove from Southern California back up to Berkeley. Through Orange County and Los Angeles, the freeway is between four and six lanes IN EACH DIRECTION, sometimes even eight lanes when two freeways merge. After the 5 Freeway crests the Grape Vine and drops into the Central Valley, it decreases in width down to two lanes in each direction.

A few days before I left Iceland, there was a ceremony celebrating the completion of the widest stretch of freeway in Iceland, from Hafnafjordur to Reykjanesbaer. Two lanes in each direction.

Thus, the largest section of freeway in Iceland is the smallest section of freeway in California. Does this count as coincidence, symmetry, asymmetry, or an obsession with seeing patterns where none exists?