Sunday, April 20, 2014


You might remember this sweater that I knit for Justina Smith a couple of years ago in exchange for a painting. Well, a year later we decided it was time to initiate another swap, and this time I had a very specific idea I was hoping she could manifest on a big canvas. I wanted a lively, vibrant portrait of Miss Dickinson, based on the iconic, pinched portrait everyone is familiar with. As Justina and I were emailing cardigan (her) and painting (me) ideas back and forth, we decided on pumpkin-coloured wool and Tim showed me a Dickinson poem I had never seen before. I was so taken with the poem, and the fact that Tim had discovered it, that I immediately asked Justina if she could incorporate it ("and two different blues, please") into the painting. 

And she did, along with some brilliant wallpaper. I like the way the background encroaches, the flowers trailing right over her shoulders, while Emily sits serene and poetic.

Emily Dickinson (1830–86).  Complete Poems.  1924.

Part One: Life

THE BRAIN is wider than the sky,
  For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include
  With ease, and you beside.
The brain is deeper than the sea,        5
  For, hold them, blue to blue,
The one the other will absorb,
  As sponges, buckets do.
The brain is just the weight of God,
  For, lift them, pound for pound,        10
And they will differ, if they do,
  As syllable from sound.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Sun Voyager

Sólfar, The Sun Voyager, by Jón Gunnar Árnason. The most beautiful piece of public sculpture I have ever seen. If anything in Iceland made me want to write poetry, this did.

Monday, April 14, 2014

introvert holiday

bananas, with spots and cupboard doors

yarn from Stokurinn in Reykjavik

breakfast--with unseen, just-planted sprouted garlic 

a sweater torso

breakfast again

sprouted ginger root
this will be a lopapeysa

pears, avocado pears (as S. P. would say)

sourdough rye bread

spring spit bubble

to make 100% sourdough rye bread
(adapted after trials and tribulation from Bread Matters by Andrew Whitley)

- in a large bowl, mix together:

125 grams rye sourdough starter (at a 2:1 ratio of water to flour)
150 grams dark rye flour
300 grams warm water

- let sit, covered, in a warm spot for 12-16 hours

- remove 125 grams of mixture and return to fridge (your starter for the next batch)

- add to the remaining sponge:

350 grams dark rye flour
10 grams salt 
200 grams warm water
caraway seeds (optional)

- mix with a wooden spoon or spatula--dough will be extremely wet and sloppy (not knead-able)

- scrape into buttered 9x5 loaf pan, sprinkle with 

more caraway seeds

- let rise, covered loosely, until risen to top of pan (2-8 hours)--to avoid cloth or plastic wrap sticking to the top of your loaf, you can slide the whole pan into a large ziploc bag

- preheat oven to 450 or 500 degrees F

- put risen dough in the oven, reduce temperature to 400 degrees F

- bake until inserted fork or thermometer comes out clean (between 30 and 60 minutes)--if crust isn't burnt, err on the side of a longer baking time

- remove loaf from pan and leave in open air (to cool and lose excess moisture) for at least 12 hours 

The bread adventure continues. This is the recipe I came up with after wasting around 10 pounds of rye flour on bread that wouldn't rise. The most major changes I made to Whitley's recipe were to increase the amounts of both starter and salt. If you have a trustworthy, vigorous starter, you may be able to use significantly less (Whitley suggests only 50 grams). In my opinion, this bread needs at least 10 grams of salt. 

And if you're slightly daft (as I am) when it comes to sourdough, make sure you are using (and refreshing) all of the starter in your jar every time you make bread. One of my main problems in the beginning was that my starter's acidity balance had been thrown out of whack by the extra starter that never made it out of my jar. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Icelandic Phallological Museum

On my second-last day in Reykjavik, I visited the penis museum. It was a strange place, stocked with the phalluses of 93 species preserved in jam jars and glass tanks. There were tanned scrotums on the walls alongside paintings, drawings. And the first thing I saw, right before the whale cock almost as tall as me, was the museum founder's hand-carved, penis-themed dinner set. Indeed.

the director's dinner set

whale penis

a sad (badly preserved?) human penis
a bad carving job

a shockingly beautiful reindeer penis



another whale 

horse penis

the Icelandic handball team

on the wall

uh, yes--scrotum lamps

The God Odin and Gunnlod

seal penis

I have to admit that the silver casts of the silver-medal winning Icelandic handball team were extremely entertaining, though I failed to get pictures of the "troll", "ghost" and "Huldufolk" specimens. Throughout the museum, geeky obsession and enthusiasm mixed so thoroughly with self-mockery that I wasn't sure if it backfired on itself. I wondered how I would feel as a man--if I would feel exploited, ever-so-slightly ridiculed, a bit of a joke. Not that there isn't something inherently funny about genitalia, in general. I just wondered.

Question: Would a vagina or a clitoris museum in this style be considered refreshing or sacrilegious?

The "erotic" material in the museum (a sort of pathetic collection of dildos) was kept under a black cloth, which the viewer was requested to replace after viewing. Another question: why make any attempt to separate the penis as an organ and a cultural reference from . . . sex? (Do you really think I have Art in mind when, in the gift shop, I consider purchasing a beautiful cowhorn "sculpture"?) To take a source of universal fascination, obscene humour, folk reference, and ubiquitous symbolism out of the sexual context in which there is, for many people at least, a genuine appreciation and attraction, is to create an incomplete and condescending representation.

However. It's undeniable that the museum's collection is scientifically valuable and informative; also undeniable that the visitors' guidebook suggests that a sense of humour is essential to enjoying one's visit. And I did enjoy it. Thoughts?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

landscape vs. hostel

site of the first Icelandic parliaments

When my bus tour arrived at the geyser site (where I saw Strokkur erupt three times), the tour guide announced that we were there on the first day that the farmers from the surrounding area were, with dubious legal sanction, charging admission. We got out of the bus, and along with everyone else (the contents of several buses) I approached the chilled men and women in waterproof coveralls standing at the roped-off entrance. Their level of organization fascinated me. Tickets, brochures, and wireless debit machines were produced from their fanny packs. Were they that eager, or that resentful? I smiled awkwardly, paid my 700 ISK, made my way along paths beside bubbling pots in the earth, took my pictures.                                 

view from the front door of Kex hostel

hostel kitchen

dorm - I'm the top bunk on the right, by the window


I swam in this water during a blizzard.

The tour guide also told us about the Nobel laureate Halldor Laxness as we passed by his house. I ordered Independent People from amazon that night, because the guide said that, although people had strong opinions on either side of his other novels, few people in Iceland were unfamiliar with, or could dislike, Independent People. I just started it today.