Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Annual Disappearance of Keith Olberman

yessir, folks, it's that time of year again.  keith olberman has quit or been fired from his TV show--  in a flurry, no doubt,  of tantrums, shrieks, groans, mutual recriminations, and shattered crockery.  last spring, it was msnbc. this spring it's Current.  the easter bunny is on his way in, and keith o. is on his way out.

for viewers, this becomes tedious; probably for mr olberman as well.  but it seems inevitable. which would be okay if we knew for sure he'd be back on tv soon. 

i would imagine from all i've read, and even at times from his affect on the show, that he's a difficult person to work with. he clearly thinks he's hot shit.

this would be a problem, except for one thing: he is hot shit.  and please spare me that awful pat, 'moderate'  cliche, 'he's the left-wing equivalent of rush limbaugh.'  he's not--any more than a lion is the left-wing equivalent of a rat.

olberman thinks. he thinks a lot. he knows a lot. he knows enough that he has no reason to even consider inventing fact.  so when he says something, you may agree, disagree, or be uncertain.  but you know it was worth saying, and it is worth your thinking about.  when he castigates someone for doing something, there's a better than even chance that the person has done it. olberman has, it is true, an authoritative persona, which makes what he says easier to believe than the fox-type growlers and gesticulators.  but the bottom line is that the authority comes from knowledge.

i'm sorry if he's a pain in the butt to his bosses; he's a boon to those of us out there with our little flashlights seeking an honest news commentator.  he is no longer the single honest figure in that position, but this is in large part because he has brought to our attention a few more honest folk--notably though not exclusively rachel maddow.  msnbc now has its crew of courageous successors of edward r. murrow.  they dumped the captain, but the crew goes on well.  let's see if Current can do the same.  so far, slim pickings.

regardless, there aren't so many of them that we can afford to lose this one.  maybe he needs to join the ranks of the growing internet tv producers.  that might be a smaller audience, but so was current. 

mr. o., take a break; have a good rest, if you need to.  and then come back to us.  if you really have as strong convictions as you say, you know that all of us with such convictions have our work to do, whatever that is.  yours is to give us 'countdown,' under whatever name and in whatever venue.  you must know how privileged you are to earn your obviously impressive living doing what you love and what is helpful to  those who think as you do, and those who are daily, always, oppressed by the famous 1% and their sad camp followers. you know the space you can and do 'occupy';  please find the way to do it again.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Good Journey, Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich died Tuesday, March 27, at the age of 82.  There is so much to say about her, i don't know how to begin; luckily, many others are writing, and memorials of her will be easy to find.  she was so large in the women's movement, the space she leaves is endless.  i doubt there was a feminist in the country who wasn't influenced, changed, encouraged and en-couraged, by her in the '70s, '80s, '90s.  some of today's  young feminists may not have heard of her; but if you're a feminist in america, you've been influenced by her.  she was that brilliant, original, honest.

  i met her only once, in the early 1970s: i must have been interviewing her, because she had invited me to her apartment for lunch.  she knew, and praised, my work, as i know she did, sincerely, with many other young activists. she heated up some soup she'd made the night before, and i was like a star-struck kid. adrienne rich gave me soup! that she had made!   i think she was genuinely  unimpressed with her own fame, though gratified by the fact that people were affected by her work. poet, speaker, theorist, seeker.  if you've never read her poetry,  or her book 'of woman born,'  do.  her work is grounded in the realities of women's lives in the mid-20th century, but it is also timeless.  what else can i say?  read her. mourn her. be grateful she inhabited the earth for 82 years.  

Sunday, March 25, 2012

In Solidarity

okay, it's not a pretty picture.  neither, sadly, is what inspired it---the Christian Left and other groups are collecting photos of people wearing hoodies, to emphasize the ludicrous defense of the [white] man who confessed to fatally shooting Tryvon Martin, a black teenager.  martin was unarmed and simply walking home--but apparently his hoodie convinced this guy that he was dangerous.  anyway i took this and sent it to the Christian left and posted it on facebook, but maybe it belongs here too.

one of my friends responded on facebook that it looks a bit like a hijab, and, though it actually is a real hoodie--a hood as part of a sweater anyway--it does resemble a hijab, too.  and that is tragically appropriate.  black kids in hoodies and muslims in hijabs are apparently fair game for bigots.  it's good to know that even in this new millennium,  some ancient traditions live on.  lynching may have expanded its techniques,  but it's lynching nonetheless.  we've got another dead kid to prove it.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Where the Mermaids Never Sing

the tour bus passes but does not stop at the village where the hidden people live. this saddens the woman, who would like to see the hidden people. the tour guide laughs and tells her you never see them because they're hidden.  everyone laughs politely at the little joke so the tour guide continues. 'people--the real ones, that is--say the hidden people --called  huldufolk--live in volcanic rocks and are never seen by the human eye.' the woman also laughs politely but she doesn't feel amused or amiable, and she says to the invisible child, he's a jerk. they're all jerks. but she says it invisibly so they don't know she's speaking. she hopes the huldufolk can hear her, and she likes the humans who respect them.  if she ever comes back she will go alone and find the hidden people.

wouldn't you like to meet them? she asks the invisible child.  i mean, aren't you sort of like them?

the invisible child responds coldly. they live in  rocks, she says.  do i look like i live in a rock? and will not speak to her friend the woman until the bus stops for photographs and everyone runs up the hill to run down the hill to take pictures of a giant waterfall.

the woman does not want to run up the hill or take photographs. she gets out of the bus anyway, to stretch her legs and watch the mountains, snowgrown for winter.  the invisible child runs toward the nearby gorge, away from the camera people, and she swings across it from icicle to icicle.  i could be a waterfall, she tells the woman.  i could be bigger than that one, or smaller than the icicle.  and hands the icicle to the woman. it melts on the woman's hand.  the woman knows she could never be a waterfall or an icicle. or one of the hidden people.  she will never come back; she will never meet the hidden people.  the melted icicle trickles into her heart and leaves its coldness there. the bus is ready to leave.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Mid-March haiku

 Birds’ nests grow
in trees as yet

Bad Traveler's Good Week--the last day

one more day-tour, this time of copenhagen itself.  this bus was full, sort of.  it was a double decker, and the top deck was well occupied, while the lower deck was empty. the driver seemed to really want me to go upstairs, where the view would be better. they were winding and nasty-looking stairs,  and i was feeling lousy, so i held out for the bottom deck, which i then had completely to myself for the whole trip. a leisurely and attractive drive, with a somewhat over-perky  guide who explained the long shopping streets with a joke about how there should be different tours for men and women, b/c 'we women' would want 2 hours at least to shop and the gentlemen would want only 20 minutes.  i felt like yelling, 'this woman would want about 20 seconds,' but wiser impulses prevailed, and besides i didn't have enough energy to yell. i enjoyed her historical commentary, and also the views down the streets. these no-traffic, wide sidewalk boulevards have become ubiquitous  in europe since i started coming here, and while i understand their raison d'etre is the advantage to capitalists of having comfortable consumers strolling past the shops, i find the streets always pleasant, for some degree of window shopping and a larger degree of people watching, and for the mellow pace they promote.

there were 2 stops on  the trip, geared to the perceived--accurately,  i think-- desire of most tourists to have good photo opportunities.  i have been always amazed at the way people so often gravitate less to the site itself or the opportunity to experience it, and more to the kind a picture it might make.  my own preference is to take pix only of things i know i won't be able to find on postcards or will be unlikely to find by googling.  [to be fair, i'm also a lousy photographer.]

my habit wasn't challenged on this day, since the places we stopped, logical as they are for tours, weren't places that interested me.  well, the palace complex did, somewhat--a big, sprawling beauty of a place where various royal family members spend time now and again, and which have been added to since the first was built in the 17th century.  it's the various-royal-family-members that don't interest me--and, even more, the Changing of the Guard, which i used to think was exclusively a british aberration.  my experiences with the phenomenon in london have been accidental: i was at the Tower when guard change was occurring.  a minute or two was the longest it ever held my interest, and that was only the first few times i saw it. but now for some fool reason i followed the group, and soon regretted it. it was cold outside, my lungs were waiting to attack,  and we had to walk a way to get there.  i didn't turn back, out of fear of getting lost.

i don't know how long the ceremony lasts in london, but in denmark, it's interminable.  my fellow bus-tourists were all crowding around to get the best pictures; i was trying to find somewhere nearby where i could sit down and spray my lungs. finally i settled for a nice leaning place, right next to some regularly-uniformed soldiers. my brother was a soldier in vietnam, and i have had numerous friends and acquaintances who have been soldiers, but the sight of a group of military men always creeps me out. i know they're considered sexy,  but i find few things less attractive than a man in a uniform.  a woman-soldier gives me the dubious comfort of knowing that the military has changed and that we as well as men can now become trained killers.

but at least they appear real to me. the guys  in the funny furry helmets with their ultra-serious faces and high-legging marches always seem like cheerleaders in drag.  we got an extra treat; some of them were playing fifes [or whatever they were] and drums.  oh god, spare me! i cried inwardly.  well, i was there, leaning on my wall, and the only escape route scared me, so i determined to find something interesting in the performance.  i tried to reframe my ideas about the costumed marching; maybe it really was a kind of choreography, i thought. that kept me going for at least a minute. well, for at most a minute. then, through my semi-fog, i realized the fife-and-drummers had finished one number and were beginning another.  i knew this tune well;  the words rushed merrily around my mind:  'i wish i was in the land of cotton....' the vision of these beaver-hatted danes as confederate soldiers in the US civil war saved my sanity.  i started coughing again, this time to cover laughter.

eventually we left danish dixie, and our warm bus took us to the final stop, once again through pleasing scenery, to the ocean harbor.  it was beautiful. but the water wasn't the reason for the stop. everyone but me got out to photograph the Little Mermaid.  no temptation here: i could see it perfectly well out the window.  so please note, ladies and gentlemen: i really did see the statue.  trust me, i'm a real tourist after all. and being a pondering sort, i pondered.  which was a sillier icon for a country--a  disney-esque mermaid staring sadly off to sea, or, in the western part of europe, a smug little boy with a bladder problem? by the time the others got back onto the bus, i had pretty much decided on the belgian brat, but it was a close call.

back to the Town Square where the tour began, and again i was hungry and tired. and running out of danish krona. the guide pointed me to a nearby street, which housed several cafes, a cambio, and a taxi stand.  all my needs within  few yards!  so i got to walk around a bit, savoring the little of the city my lungs would permit, and settling into that most danish of dining establishments, a pizza place--where i ate some of the best pizza i'd ever had.  and once again, an internal burst of laughter.  the three places i had dined in during my brief stay--chinese restaurant, scuzzy cafe, and pizza place, had all been  filled with danish diners.  well, why not? the danes had no need to seek out 'danish food.'  like americans, and dutch for that matter--and probably many others--they enjoy pizza, semi-authentic chinese food, and doubtless many other cuisines.  so there i was on my tour-bus holiday eating where the natives ate.  i felt downright authentic.  a taxi home, with half my pizza napkined into my pocketbook, and a peaceful last night in scandinavia--mulling over my day, eating cold pizza and a coke from the minibar; reading my wodehouse, and realizing that my trip had, after all, been a success. i wheezed, and didn't care. my body hadn't ruined my trip at all, only contributed to shaping it.  and tomorrow, i'd be back in my tweede thuis--my second home-- in the town where i truly wasn't a tourist any longer, but simply a foreigner in a place familiar and long loved.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Bad Traveler's Good Week, day 6

okay, so the photos are awful. the experiences weren't.  [the blog wouldn't accept any of the pix i had downloaded,  so i finally gave up and just took pix of the pix, with unstunning results.  but if you look hard you can see the castle on the first picture [inadvertently accompanied by teletubby dipsy].  the place is gorgeous, and easy to find pix of via google.  as is the second picture, of christine of denmark. both shall be imminently discussed.....

copenhagen is lovely. you may quote me. the first real day there i took a tour called 'hamlet castle', which  drove thru a lot of countryside, with scheduled long visits to 2 castles. it turned out i was the only one on the bus.  i was both surprised and pleased that they still did the tour, and i had a very sweet driver/lecturer. 

the first castle--the one that emerges from the photo here if you stare at it a minute or 2--is the Frederiksborg castle, now the museum of natural history.  my guide went in with me, steered  me to his favorite thing there, a view from the 2nd floor down into the royal chapel. it had been constructed for christian iv, king in the 1600s.  gorgeous, and the view from the balcony area is perfect.  my guide told me about the stuff on the 2nd floor, the reconstructed Great Hall, with portraits and furniture from 1700-1850. i was already wheezing and shaking from the one flight of stairs, and i knew i wasn't going to risk another for an era that wasn't one of my big interests.  but he was so determined to make sure i had a good museum visit that i acted enthusiastic.  then he left, telling me i had 45 minutes.  for a while i just sat on a bench on the balcony, but i knew i didn't want to stare at the chapel for nearly an hour, so i started wandering around the rest of the 2nd floor--and was in heaven.  there were portraits etc. from the 15th and 16th century, which is my favorite era.  the ruler at the time was  christian I, who had 3 children.  one of them was a woman i've been fascinated with for years, who plays a tiny tiny role in tudor english history, and whose famous holbein portrait hangs in the National Gallery in london. after i'd seen a lot of very cool portraits of famous danes in the era, none of whom i'd ever heard of but whose looks i liked, i started wondering if christine would be there. i figured not, since she's not so big in danish history either, though she became a fairly important minor figure at the italian and spanish courts later.  and then, there she was--in  a decent, almost life-size copy of the holbein.  i felt like i'd unexpectedly run into a beloved old friend [in london, i always make a trip to the NG to say hello to her]. as it turned out, even in the best of health, with only about 1/2 an hour left, i wouldn't have seen the rest of the museum.  half an hour with christine was just about right.

 for anyone interested, the painting exists because after the death of wife number 3  henry viii was looking for a good political fourth marriage, and sent holbein all over europe to make portraits--essentially photographs--of the eligible royal women in each country.  he did several; all we have left is this and the famous anne of cleves likeness.  christine was adamant that she would give holbein only 3 hours, as she had no intention of marrying henry.  the great apocryphal and possibly true line attributed to her was, 'if i had two heads, i would gladly given his majesty one.' ironically she later married the duke of lorraine, who had also had marriage negotiations with anne of cleves.

  since the castle was built later than the 16th century, i asked the museum guide if there had been an earlier castle on the site, from christian I's time, and she said yes--a much smaller castle and used only as a summer home. enough for me and my fantasies, and i pictured young christine playing in the summer gardens...

i returned reluctantly to the bus, stopping only to see if the gift shop had a postcard of the portrait, which they didn't.  i was also in worsening shape, and when the bus eventually pulled up to the Hamlet Castle, and my guide showed me the path to it, i knew i wasn't going to make it.  the connection with hamlet and shakespeare was tenuous, to say the least, so i didn't  mind missing it, and was glad to look at it from the bus; it's a gorgeous structure, even if the possibly real, pre-medieval  prince who morphed into the bard's hamlet had nothing to do with it.  more peaceful pretty driving, and when we got back to the spot the tour had left from, he asked where i wanted to get off.  when i asked if there was a taxi stand there, he was concerned; i must have looked or sounded pretty bad by then. where did i need to go? to the strand hotel, i said. and he drove me there.  lovely man! he pointed to a nearby restaurant, telling me it was the best in town and also one of the priciest. 

it was around 3 pm, and i was hungry. best-but-priciest sounded both inviting and impossible, so i walked in the opposite direction looking for a restaurant, a supermarket, any place i could grab a sandwich.  there was a small cafe, or so it called itself, at the end of the street. on the door was the ominous sign, 'smoking.'  okay....i'd risk it, eat fast, and bolt before i could breathe in much smoke.  the place was odd. only a few small tables and chairs, a bunch of what looked like gambling machines, and a few scuzzy looking men. in the room behind was the bar and more people, and i wandered in, asking if they served lunch.  one woman, who was either owner or general worker, thought about it, checked with one of the men there, and then said yes.  she sat me at a table, asked what i wanted to drink, and looked almost crushed when i asked for water. 'only water?' she cried. 'we have coca cola!' she sounded nearly pleading so i ordered a coke and waited for her to bring me a menu. when she didn't after ten minutes or so, i went searching for her again in the little room in the back. the 3 or 4 men there all stared at me, and one said, 'she's gone to get your lunch.'  ummm, but i didn't order yet....a few minutes later she arrived triumphantly with a nice little plate of shrimp and lunch meat, with a few bits of hard boiled egg. it turned out they didn't have food there; 'lunch' was bought in a store nearby, and 'lunch' was this.  [you see why i hate adventure?]  finally i said it was okay, i'd eat out the bits of egg.  i thought i had spotted some bread under all the  tiny shrimp and figured i could scrape off the outside layer and eat the bread.  a few minutes later she came back with a small plastic box of cheese slices--the kind of box you put your kid's sandwich in--and some pieces of dark bread.  i wondered whose personal stash i was being given, and didn't care.  the cheese looked like one of those american cheese-product things, but turned out to be strong, hearty, and real; the bread equally delicious.  when i finished i ran back into the room to pay and tip her; again they were all standing staring at me, but with friendly smiles.  i started to laugh, and said, 'i guess this has been a bit strange for all of us,' and left in a wave of laughter.   i still wonder what that cafe was really about...

got to the hotel, took a nap, and woke up in the early evening in time to watch two back-to-back subtitled episodes of 'how i met your mother,' one of the dumber american sitcoms. it was just what i needed, and i fell asleep contentedly, thinking about my nice driver and christine of denmark--and ready for my last day of vacation.  

Bad Traveler's Good Week, day 5

in which our trepid tourist leaves iceland, fondly gazing at the sweet houses, and ventures off to the land of copenhagen...
 not much to say here.  loved watching the town from my taxi; slept on the plane, taxied to the hotel. another lovely hotel, but this one lacked a restaurant.  i realized how much i appreciate hotel restaurants. all i wanted was to grab a bite for dinner and settle into my room with a good book [this one was one of the best; a p.g. wodehouse novel.  thank heaven the man wrote over 80 books in his long life!].  i asked at the desk; they gave me info on a local, decently priced place a block or so away. while i searched for it i came across a chinese restaurant, which i figured would have to have some vegetarian fare, which they did.  nothing spectacular, but good and plentiful, and i took 1/2 back to the hotel with me.  reading wodehouse in bed and drifting into sleep grinning is always wonderful....

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bad Traveler's Good Week, day 4

...and woke up next morning with an anxiety attack about going there.

i still kind of wanted to go--or rather, to be in the water.  i just didn't want to get up, get dressed, bring the bathing suit, learn where to change and what to do and all that stuff when i got there: this, even though i was getting picked up and brought back by the tour bus company.

at times like these, i need to keep reminding myself that although people can and do change, parts of their old selves always re-emerge now and again.  this particular old self was the little girl/young woman so timid she wouldn't face the strangers at a store's check-out line.  instead i went shopping only with my friend, handed her my purchases and wallet, and waited outside.  at my first job, when i was 16, i held my bladder for 9 hours because i was too shy to ask anyone where the ladies room was. [one of the men at the office eventually noticed that i never left the room, figured out the problem, and tactfully guided me to the loo.]

that this girl grew up to be a writer and a  college teacher, constantly interacting with new people in often unpredictable circumstances, still often amazes  and gratifies me. but sometimes i do regress and become the scared kid again.  this was one of those times.

there was, however, an alternative to negotiating with that self, which was to blame my friend veronica for the whole problem.  veronica had told me she looked forward to hearing how i liked the blue lagoon, since she had loved it when she was in iceland last year.  clearly, she would be furious at me if i didn't go. how dare she be furious with me?  i had a long argument with veronica in my head, uninterrupted by the fact that i knew that in reality she might be at most surprised and mildly disappointed if i didn't go.

after i finished quarreling with veronica and little karen, i called the bus company and told them not to pick me up, then dropped back into bed.  two hours later i woke up, wheezing and coughing up nasty stuff.  whatever role psychology had played in my decision,  my body had known it wasn't up to going, that the chill i'd gotten under the white rainbow had settled in for awhile.

so i stayed in bed, graded a few papers, finished reading my murder mystery, dozed a lot, and had a generally comfortable day.  i needed food, of course, and was grumpily planning to get dressed and go to the restaurant downstairs, when i found myself grabbing the phone and ordering room service.

it was a lovely day, and what i needed.  but good lord, the crap i had to put myself through before i finally accepted that!   next day i was ready to take the plane for two days in copenhagen.  little karen was fine, imaginary veronica wasn't hassling me any more, and everything was tickety-boo.   except of course that i was sick.  ah well. a healthy mind in a healthy body was a great ideal--but a healthy mind in a wheezy body would do.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bad Traveler's Good Week, day 3

this was a day of almost no ambivalence, which in itself makes it a rarity in my life.  it was a 6-hour tour appropriately called the Golden Circle Afternoon, and it went to several intriguing places.

when i say 'no ambivalence,' i refer to my mind, or my soul, if you want it to sound fancier.  my body was feeling every day of its 67 years, and nagged pretty thoroughly at me.  but i've learned over the years when to listen to the nagging and when to ignore it, or at least compromise.  this was a day of pretty painless compromise.

the first place we stopped was Thingvellir National Park, which offered, among nobler amenities, toilets.  we got off the bus, and i headed for the head [you see how chipper i was], and then came out to stare balefully at the slippery-looking hill that would take us to  a view of the tectonic plates where north america and eurasia meet.  i had, and still have, no concept of what a tectonic plate looks like. the hill looked scary enough that neither my lungs nor my joints would consider it.  though i remain tectonically illiterate, i was fine just walking around the immediate area, watching the snow on the mountains and smelling the pristine air.

on we went to the one thing i did regret missing, the huge glacial waterfall Gullfoss. invisible from the bus, it demanded a walk up yet another slippery-sloping path. i want to see it! whined my soul, so my lungs instantly produced a grand, choking wheeze.  well, i'd seen several waterfalls on the way, and would just have to imagine the giant one. we had about an hour there, time enough to grab a quick bite or even, bypassing the waterfall, a leisurely lunch, to which no body part seemed to object. so i sat there looking out the huge window of the cozy cafeteria and reading my icelandic mystery.  i even  had time to pick up a couple of birthday presents in the adjoining tourist shop--and for myself, a pair of red socks with white letters shouting ICELAND on the sides.

finally, after 15 minutes more of driving past mountains and lakes and oceanic waters, we arrived at the final stop, Geyser hot springs site, to see the spouting geyser Strokker [Geyser geyser itself is inactive these days.]  this i really did want to see.  all around the geyser area were smaller geysers, sending out smoke and small bits of water and mist all over.  totally gorgeous.  but the body was seriously pissed by now, and again there was the 'slippy' hill; further, our tour guide warned us not to stand too close, because Strokker [which spouted every seven minutes] sometimes spat out boiling water.  so if i made it up the slippy hill and could still breathe, i risked getting assaulted by a hostile geyser. i stayed put. we were to meet the bus elsewhere on the grounds, and i went to the bus driver and asked if i could stay on the bus, explaining my asthma.  he was sweet and concerned, assured me it was okay, patted me on the shoulder, and off we went. the new spot was the site of a cafe, where he was going to get some lunch.  after making sure i was all right alone, he left, and i looked out the window....and saw the geyser!  the other people from the bus were already there, looking tiny next to the huge water bursts.  i could see it perfectly from the perched seats of the big bus. it had something of the effect of seeing a great opera from the first row of the second balcony: distant but utterly clear, with no one in front of me blocking my view.  i was ridiculously thrilled.  no question now of courting the surly goddess Awe.  body, mind, and soul were in perfect, serene  harmony.  and as i waited between the great geyser's bursts, i got to watch the  gentle smoke drifts of the small ones in front of me.

got home around 7 p.m., had a pleasant dinner in the hotel restaurant,  read a bit more of the inridason novel, and went to bed early.  i was relaxed, and thus aware of how tight my muscles were, and i drifted off to sleep in luxurious anticipation of the next day's activity--floating in the famed hot waters of the blue lagoon.....

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Bad Traveler, day 2...later that evening...

trepid tourist trips on northern lights....

quick lunch and dinner, blessed nap, and on my way to the 2nd tour of the day.  we drive out of the city and into the countryside to see, we hope, the famous aurora borealis.  as the travel brochure announces, there is no guarantee that the lights will appear to us; they promise that if not, we will be given free access to as many tours as needed until we experience a successful appearance.

i had been excited about the prospect, since by all reports the lights are astounding.  but i'm also tired and grumpy. when the bus pulls up by a small church in a large meadow, i'm reluctant to leave its warmth. but i do, of course.  on the way the guide had given us information about the lights, including that fact that they can come in any color, including white: white, she says, will show up on pictures as green.

we walk down a path away from the church, into  more darkness. i hadn't been prepared for this, and the path is very rocky. i keep stumbling, and with each stumble become more anxious. it is just about a year since my last fall--on the charles bridge in prague--and that seems ominous.  the year before that i had fallen down stairs at the castle.  i'd been hoping to skip this year's fall.  it's a short walk but by the time we get to the spot the guide decides on, i'm in nearly full-blown anxiety mode.  we're standing on a hill, which means i'm still stumbling. and we wait--don't worry, she says, we can wait for half an hour or so. by now, it's really cold.  the cold knifes its way into my lungs, so now i get to choose between falling and getting pneumonia, and the northern lights seem less interesting than the reading light in my hotel room.  and im bored and antsy.  i watch the cozy little church behind us, trying to imagine myself inside.  i'm been humming joni mitchell [' the nights when the northern lights perform...'], but the mind now switches into the mamas and the papas ['...i walk into a church along the way. the preacher likes the cold; he knows i'll have to stay'], and then the guide triumphantly calls out, 'look!' , so we all do.  but at what?  another cloud above the one that's been there all along.  then the new one grows and spreads, and soon covers the sky like a huge albino rainbow.

i try to feel awe.  i know i should; my brain tells me it's an awesome sight.  but awe, i discover, can't be conjured up any more than the lights themselves. i stare at the odd rainbow and, added to my pile of negative emotions, i'm pissed that it's white.  like the cold white knife in my lungs.  my brain knows it's still amazing, even if it isn't a blaze of colors.  i try to appreciate it.  but the awe and appreciation will come later; for now all i want to do is walk back to the bus.  but i'm scared; at least if i leave with the others, someone will see me when i fall and help me up.  eventually, i give up and start to walk back, and a few others are also doing that . again, i stumble but remain upright. i rush into the bus and sit awhile alone, all of my body but the icy lungs begins to thaw.  later, i remind myself, i'll be very glad i saw this.

and later, indeed, i am.

no pictures this time, though i have pored over the internet searching.  no whites at all. i guess they're all green.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Bad Traveler's Good Week, Day 2 which our intrepid adventurer....
except that i'm not intrepid. i am, in fact, extremely trepid. and i hate adventure. life, they say, is one great adventure, and they're right. hence the phenomenal success of prozac.

for this reason, i prefer to travel, whenever possible, on prearranged tours.  [yes, my dears, i can see you wince. how gauche. how middle tourist!] i have no yearnings for the grand spontaneity of setting off without direction to see what real life in a different environment is like, to live as the natives live.  you do not live like a native by walking through strange streets wondering where the hell you are and if there's a toilet in that scuzzy bar across the street.  natives know where they are. you are not a native in a country you've never seen before, in which the people speak a language you don't know, and in which you will spend at best a few days. you are a tourist.  and never fear, however you arrange the travels, adventure will find you, in some form or another.  life does that to us.

so i'm on the first real day of my travels, and a tour bus comes to my hotel and sweeps me away on a three-hour exploration of reyjavik.  i am excited about seeing the city.  but i don't see a city at all. okay, so i'm still exhausted and i doze now and then, but still, how do you miss a drive through downtown? later i learn that i didn't doze through downtown, i just didn't know it was downtown.  as gertrude stein  wrote of another city, there is no there there.  once i realized this, a day or so later, i was fine with it. who needs a downtown when you're surrounded by mountains more amazing than any skyscraper?  there were a few obligatory post-world-war-2-ugly buildings and a couple of obligatory contemporary ugly buildings, the biggest of which looked like it was designed by an i.m. pei with thick eyeglasses.  once away from downtown, there was some lovely, muted architecture--small homes shaped like monopoly houses, which were of various colors, none gaudy.  later i'd see similar houses in copenhagen [whose there is definitely there].

meanwhile, i did see some great stuff. much of the tour was along the beach, and that plus the mountains was all i needed.  but there was more. i didn't much like the sculpture we passed several times, on the beach itself, meant to be a modern evocation of a viking boat.  to me it looked more like a giant upside down cockroach.

i had seen in the travel brochures a picture of a big modern cathedral, hallgrimskirkja, also meant to evoke the viking ships. in the picture it looked ghastly.  when the bus pulled up in front of it, it looked magnificent. we had a ten-minute  stop there, and i went inside, where it was equally majestic. the catherdral houses a huge organ, which was being played in a way even i could recognize as exquisite; when we had to leave i asked the guide about the organist, who, it turns out, was one of the two most admired organists in iceland, and who was practicing for the upcoming sunday's mass. that four-minute piece of concert, in that airy, white splendor, was worth the whole tour.

to be continued......

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Bad Traveler's Good Week in Scandanavia--part 1

This is going to take longer than i thought, as i'm in mid-asthma bout and also trying to finish midterm grading and all that stuff. so--for my impatient public [that's you, jo ann], i will literally take it day by day. i have dubbed myself Bad Traveler; the why of that will become apparent.

day 1, march 2.  got up at 3:30 a.m.  yes, A.M.!--to hitch a ride on the chartered bus that was taking the students to the airport for their trip to madrid.  so we got there very very early, and i waved goodbye to the  kids, feeling a bit odd that this time i was actually going somewhere too.  in the blechy business of getting through security, i managed to lose my lovely purple fake-fur vest, so passed the time until my flight frantically and fruitlessly trying to find it. 3 hour, pleasantly uneventful plane ride, which i pretty much slept through, and easily found the tour bus that took me to my hotel , thanks to marina, my hard-working travel agent.  charming hotel, lovely people.
the hotel, along with its other virtues, has an onsite restaurant, which, for a Bad Traveler like me, is a huge plus.  also had perfect reading, thanks to my little brother's christmas gift: a murder mystery by an icelandic writer, set in reykjavik. wonderful writer--arnaldur indridason. [stay tuned for the next exciting episode, day 2, in which Bad Traveler experiences an amazing church, the Northern Lights, and Greater Downtown Reykjavik.  and of course gets sick.]