Thursday, December 31, 2015

what shall I read?

What shall I read while en route to or in Iceland? Today I will finish "1954," a fine book by Bill Madden about that year and baseball and integration and other stuff. It will have been the thirteenth book I read in 2015. When I told my coffee-shop friend Bill B. that I was going to Iceland, right away he told me he had read two books by Icelander Halldor Laxness, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1955. Bill is admirably well read. I bow before him. So today I went to the DeWitt branch of the Onondaga County Public Library with the hope of securing a Laxness tome. No such luck. Instead, I came away with Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov and Mr. Bones by Paul Theroux. I was inspired to pick up the Nabokov because I had just finished an article in The New Yorker about his letters to his wife, Vera. I chose Theroux because he is such an acclaimed travel writer, though this is a collection of twenty short stories (fiction). I will begin one of these books tonight, Deo volente, and will likely continue one of these books on my flight to Reykjavik. Come to think of it, it will make much more sense to buy a Laxness volume in Reykjavik, maybe in his native tongue or maybe in English. I cherish in advance a lovely bookstore in the world's most northern capital city. There's a selfish motive involved here: imagine how impressed the lovely woman sitting across from me at the cafe will be when I breezily mention Laxness or if she sees me reading one of his works (if it's the Icelandic version I will be faking it; but they say "fake it till you make it").

p.s. Thank you, Wikipedia, for the aural pronunciation of the author of Lolita. iIve had it mostly right all these years, while other pronunciations I've heard over the years were not quite on the mark, which is fine. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Iceland itinerary

This is already kind of crazy, as in cuh-razy. I am slated to fly out of Newark on a Monday night and land in Keflavik on Tuesday morning. Stay three nights in Reykjavik. I've booked an apartment through VRBO for three nights. Leave Friday evening but land in JFK. Smart, eh? That would be one major reason for the good price on the flight. 

While in Iceland, what to do? I tend to be a take-it-as-it-comes traveler, open to serendipity. I've been exploring the excellent I Heart Reykjavik blog and website, including its tour offerings. Very appealing. I have never taken a tour as a traveler -- not in Ireland or Germany, for example. I felt a tour would have restricted me, limited my possibilities. But I am not thinking that way now. I am thinking that some guidance and direction will actually open possibilities, relieve stress, and enhance the whole experience.

So, as it stands now, I am thinking:

  • Tuesday: wander around Reykjavik in a self-directed get-acquainted way, eat, blog, tea or coffee, nap at apartment, meet "never-met-before friends with like interests" [that's code; can't say more without compromising principles and traditions]
  • Wednesday: a tour that includes some awesome nature things outside the city
  • Thursday: a mix of Tuesday and Wednesday's agenda
  • Friday: another tour
That is pretty vague.

Gotta think about this a little more, but not too much!

Monday, December 28, 2015


I see that Merriam-Webster for the first time selected a suffix as its Word of the Year: -ism. Their selection criteria include various calculations based on lookups and combinations of lookups and year-over-year increases etc. So, 2015 evidently saw a lot of search activity (lookups) related to socialism, communism, feminism, fascism, racism, terrorism, and capitalism. I am mildly surprised not to find "alcoholism" on that -ism word-lookup parade. Am I being a grouchy growler (hate that word, though why should anyone hate any word?)? As for "-ism" and "alcoholism," there have long been clever and insightful pop-culture associations, with "-ism" representing the solipsistic "I self me" of the disease or the "I sponsor myself" approach that is said to thwart recovery.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

winter haiku redux

rain to gloppy snow

soundtracks this silent dark night

train whistle blowin'

Saturday, December 26, 2015

French Foreign Legion, Iceland Division

I don't know how the legend started, the one about heartbroken or unlucky-in-love men joining the French Foreign Legion. Ah, the dark romance of it all, made for film noir. I mention this for a reason. Is this the sort of reason I am embarking on a journey to Iceland? Could I be that type of man, hurling himself into danger, mystery, or adventure in order to cure himself of failures of the heart?

Only my hairdresser knows for sure, to paraphrase the old award-winning ad for Miss Clairol hair coloring. 

(My mom worked on the assembly line at Clairol for many years; her chronic cough is likely a result of the chemicals she breathed in those many years working there.)

Friday, December 25, 2015

questions for Iceland and me

Questions about my pending Iceland trip (answers pending; or not):

  1. Am I trying to escape duty, pain, or quotidian routine? If so, is that right or wrong? (Are "right" and "wrong" notions of culture and custom more than morality?)
  2. If Iceland is a personal metaphor, what is it a metaphor for? If not a metaphor, can Iceland be a simile, a song, an icon, a template, a slate, a temple, or a geothermal self-reflecting pool?
  3. Upon landing at Keflavik, will I say to myself, "What have you done now?" though it will not be possible, or practical, to scoot back home?"
  4. Can one conjure or force to happen a satori or epiphany? And can a new-found-land be the locus of such enlightenment?
  5. Will I be able to resist the urge to sleep upon landing?
  6. Which course of tourism will be most beneficial and rewarding: wringing everything out of Iceland and tapping all its wellsprings insofar as this human and his endurance and budget can withstand it, or a more passive, let-it-me-revealed onto to me approach?
  7. What if I love Iceland so much I want to stay, I mean really stay? (And would Iceland even want me to stay if I could?)
  8. Will I encounter a San Francisco Giants fan in Iceland? (I would not be shocked at such an eventuality.)
  9.  Do Icelanders believe in the existence of elves (National Geographic says 54% of Icelanders do)? Better yet, quite simply, do elves inhabit Iceland, spiritually or physically?
  10. If this journey proves transformative, how so?

Iceland poem 2

As a baron of barrenness, I

Implore your springs to geothermalize me

Your pure waters trickling

In my dreams wake

My frozen flesh

Torched in sunset

A tango of serenades

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

an interview with my self

Q. Why do you want to go to Iceland?

Why not?

Q. How did you manage to pick that land, as opposed to say, Ireland, Finland, or Queensland, Australia?

I'm not sure. It popped into my head. The idea of going to Iceland began to intrigue me. Kind of an impulse buy. I needed to relieve some stress, so I figured, Go north. True north. True self, self. Plus, I recalled reading in Daniel Gilbert's "Stumbling on Happiness" that people in Iceland ranked highly on happiness scales.

Q. What do you hope to accomplish with your trip to Iceland?

"Accomplish"? Maybe nothing. Maybe some self-reflection. Maybe a good time. To be fair to myself, I do have to allow for the remote possibility that I will have a dreadful time. It's not my hope or my expectation, but one must be prepared. Nevertheless, I am confident Iceland and I and its people will have a splendid time.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Iceland naked

I am tempted to study very little about Iceland before going there. Sure, I have checked out a few things online or heard from people who have visited Iceland or learned things from my putative host: the tall church, the Old Town, the Blue Lagoon, the port, Nordic or Viking this or that. But I want Reykjavik to unfurl before me like the pages of a unread book. I desire that Iceland surprise me like a heart-pounding first kiss with someone. I seek a naked Iceland, unclothed by expectation, artifice, experience, or notions. O Iceland, let me see the veins on your hands, the curve of your neck, the fire in your eyes, as well as the keratosis of your skin, the limp in your gait, the sag of your flesh. Iceland, greet me with open arms and heart.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Iceland poem 1

I have heard it said Iceland's people are among the world's most literate. They are bards. Therefore, to honor that, here is my inaugural attempt at Icelandic poetry, in advance of my journey there.

Escarpments of escape

Humming under the wind

Springs eternal

Borealis sky

Aurora antiphons

Surging in my skin

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Iceland terrain

Already the terrain of Iceland is craggy, windswept, cold, barren, and biting. And I have not even set foot there yet, so that is a biased viewpoint. It is not a depiction of the terrain of Iceland. Not really. Not in actuality. As I said, I have yet to journey there. No, it is a description of the concept of my taking a journey to "Iceland" as a concept, a notion. There those who are aghast at my proposal to do so. How dare I? How dare I spend the money or take the time, me the frugal one, living on two meals a day, abstemious and sober, thrifty yet supposedly incapable of certain monetary "equalities," shall we say? The nerve. The boldness. Who will take care of Mom, 99? Who will do this or that? How can such roles be abdicated so cavalierly? These are the craggy, windswept, cold, barren, and biting questions. Iceland, what say you now?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Icelandic ponderings

"Do not travel to other dusty lands, forsaking your own sitting place; if you cannot find the Truth where you are now, you will never find it." Dogen

That is today's quotation on my Zen Calendar.

Point taken.

But I am nevertheless inching closer in my plans for a trip to Reykjavik, Iceland.

1. It's not that "dusty" a land, is it? (Maybe it is, volcanic ash and all.)

2. Hey, if I don't find Truth, at least I can find a Good Time.

Friday, December 18, 2015

previsions of Reykjavik, v. 1.1

And what if I chicken out, just another example of verbal bluster? I hope I go to Reykjavik. I want to go to Iceland. What is stopping me? Nothing should stop me, not even that my mom is here, a few miles away, in her 100th year, on her own, more or less, mostly less, these days. People ask me, "Why Iceland?" My glib reply is "why not?" though there must be more to it, stretching north, digging deeper, the geothermal bubbles, new languages, rugged terrain, foreign sands, fresh air.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

previsions of Reykjavik, v. 1.0

So, will there be bubbling hot springs, roasted coffee, Bacchanalian abandon, sobriety, serenity, escarpments, or wind? Some or all? I suspect I will conduct little research beforehand, on Iceland or its most-northern-in-the-world capital. I doubt I will take a camera. My unsmartphone is not camera-adept. I will likely visit that tall church I found out about online before I decided I should let things unfurl, like the sails on the Viking ships. Is it nonsense to go somewhere to find out something about one's own interior spaces? Will people speak English. (Yes, I am sure.) Iceland and Ireland differ by one letter. I could offer a meaning there, but that is a stretch. 

What if I want to stay?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

visions of Reykjavik

Reykjavik. Once you learn how to spell it, you're halfway there, right? Iceland. The thought of journeying to Iceland beckons to me on an unseasonably uncold Tuesday night in Syracuse, New York. Go north, and then north of there. Go to the planet's true north, its northernmost capital. While others go to the Cayman Islands (as I once did) or Belize or Puerto Rico or Mexico, you name it, to a warmer clime, I am fantasizing doing deeper, going into the cold, mine and Nature's. Solo. And why not. Just the name of the country invites stoic challenge, though geothermal springs dispel those notions, as do stories of all-night revellers and Nordic, guilt-free abandon. Why not. Having flown to Ireland and Germany and seen the in-flight map of Transatlantic flight progress displayed on the screen on the back of the seat in front of me, and in those instances flying over Iceland, and thinking, wow, we are almost there, in Europe (though not quite; is Iceland in Europe?), I am thinking, Let's skip the continental Europe part and see what Iceland offers, even if no ice is there, literally or metaphorically.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

81 (True) North

ribboned white line pines aspens grassland farmland cumulus azure sunset crenellated treeline contours shoulders yellow stripe winding road cooler balmy homeward beckoning tires humming thrumping windshield framed maples beech diesel vista valley hillock verdant sienna hunter emerald lime lemon stratus striated shadow visor oak arching yawning yearning coasting hardscape cattle curvilinear hamlet village crossroads straightaway hum highway northward hawk raven sparrow deer scimitar moon speed song

Monday, December 14, 2015


Yesterday the Merriam-Webster website listed "microaggression" as one of its "Words We're Watching." M-W cited it as "subtle comments that are demeaning to a marginalized group." I, however, came at it from another angle, though I had never heard the word or seen it in print before this website happenstance. I see microaggression as a more precise, yet alternative, term for "passive-aggressive," an oft-used coupling in modern American parlance. It seems to me that microaggression fills a void. We needed a term for something active, not passive, though not cogently belligerent. It's a way to describe the coded reference, the positioned object, the provocative phrase or look, an altered pattern, a throat-clearing, dirty dish (or clean), unanswered prompt or prompted halt, the shredded receipt, the untied lace, the dirty laundry.

Friday, December 11, 2015

streets with no name

I have stood at the corner of Straight and Narrow (I believe Paterson, New Jersey has such a juncture) as well as at Crooked and Wide. These are thoroughfares, avenues, or dead ends -- take your picks. Today I perched at the curb of Relief and Regret, wondering what the pavement holds, gravel or soapstone; marble or sand; parched or flooded; trafficked or sojourned; singular or multitudinous.

To be revealed.

Friday, December 04, 2015

stet stat stet

Stet. "Let it stand," in Latin, meaning: one makes an edit and then has second or third thoughts and concludes, "Disregard the change; let it stay as it was originally. I erred in judgment. My bad. Proceed as you were proceeding." A nifty do-over tool. Would that we could shout it out after the wrong word has been spoken to the wrong person at the wrong time with the wrong tone. Stet! Perhaps we'd even be able to add a "stat," a call for immediate action, just before they place the paddles on the chest to try to revive the human heart. Stat! [short for statim, in Latin, the adverb for "immediately"] You hear it on TV medical dramas all the time. Oh yeah. Stat stet. Or stet stat! 

If only.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

backing in

What's the obsession, the compulsion, with backing in? Go to a large parking lot, say a mall or a superstore, and voila! you are apt to see someone, typically in a big boat of a vehicle, a ponderous and ostentatious truckload of metal and chrome, stopping, pausing, and slowing up the works by doing a K-turn just so they can back into the parking space they have found. Sure, you can accuse me of my own solipsism, posturing an indignant attitude because said drivers are slowing ME, ME, ME. But honestly what's the point? It escapes me. They always seem to want to make a big deal of it, as if to say, "Hey, plebe, look at me. I not only found a space for my metal hull on wheels, I am ready to zip outta here, unlike you, you moron. I'm ready to go. A modern speedster firmly and sure-footedly planted in The Land of the Free and Wait While I Do This." True, no one has ever uttered one syllable expressing such thoughts, but I have a fertile, and febrile, imagination.