Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Is it just me, or is the Victorian era open to particularly easy parody?


I heard, as attentive readers - is there anyone out there? - will have noticed, a fun concert a couple of weeks ago. Malcolm Arnold and Dmitri Shostakovich. I'd never knowingly heard anything by Arnold before - I've never, for example, seen The Bridge on the River Kwai

Incidentally, did you know that the novel on which The Bridge on the River Kwai was based - Le pont de la rivière Kwai - is by the same author, Pierre Boulle, who wrote Planet of the Apes, or, I suppose, La planète des singes? Anyhow, even though everybody thinks he's seen The Bridge on the River Kwai - you know, Alec Guinness, evil Oriental soldiers, stiff upper lips, something getting blown up at the end - I realise I never actually have sat down and watched the thing all the way through.

But this is a digression. I liked Malcolm Arnold. I liked the Fifth Symphony. I was going to get interested in him and hear some more of his music. And I still may. But I opened the papers a few days ago, and - yes - was slightly pertubed to find that he had died.

I have previous with this sort of thing. In 1997, I went to live in Moscow for a year. Before I went out there, one of the Russian musicians I was slowly getting to like and enjoy was Bulat Okudzhava. I thought I'd be able to find some of his songs on cassettes somewhere - a slightly vague, but certainly heartfelt plan. Then I bought the paper one day, and - all over the back pages - fulsome obituaries, assessments of his impact, discussion of his work....

If you follow the Okudzhava link, you'll find a nice quote from his mother: 'Bulat Okudzhava spoke and wrote only in Russian. This was because his mother, who spoke Georgian, Azeri, and Armenian, had always requested that everyone who came to visit her house "Please, speak the language of Lenin - Russian".'

I Submitted My Thesis

Too Much of a Good Thing

This was, apparently, an academic conference.

Silvio Rodríguez

The Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez came to give a concert in the Barbican, his first in England for twenty-two years. At this rate, he will be eighty-two by the time of the next one, and I will be forty-nine. So, we thought we'd catch him while we had the chance. This rather blurry photograph is intended as evidence.

He was, by the way, very good.

More Icelandic Graffiti

I don't need to go to the zoo now, I suppose. Although the Reykjavík zoo is designed for children, with a lot of interaction between the animals and the visitors. Therefore, unlikely to contain either vicious man-eating wolves, or agressive and easily startled two-tonne giraffes.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Erró is, as of course we all know, the greatest Icelandic pop artist. He stopped trying to make sense in about the middle of the 1980s and is much the better for it, perhaps. The early paintings and screen prints are funny, but a bit obvious. For example, he went through a period of making quite interesting photo-realist pictures of Venice, into the foreground of which he would then paint the massed hordes of the Chinese Army. East vs. West, capitalist decadence (Venice is literally sinking), and so on. There are also some good but obvious pictures which have: at the top, a picture from a propaganda poster of a Japanese soldier running towards the enemy; at the bottom, a picture from some Classical Japanese pornography. Sex and death, and so on. And then in the 1980s he got into Marvel comics and high vs. low art, and becomes funnier and less concerned with trying to get a message across. And much the better for it, perhaps.

Icelandic Graffiti

I followed where the arrow led, but found it rather disappointing.

My Current Favourite Sentence

'But if there are things saying wrong about Sam Allardyce believe you me, I will be fighting them.'

Monday, September 18, 2006

Andrés Kolbeinsson

Andrés Kolbeinsson is a documentary photographer from Iceland. He is at the moment the subject of a retrospective show (an yfirlitssyning - the last 'y' should have an acute accent on it, but this computer ain't doin' what I want it to at the moment) at the Reykjavík Museum of Photography. He's most well-known (according to the retrospective) for his photographs of a) cultural figures in Reykjavík during the 1950s and 1960s, b) evidence of the Icelandic economic boom - lots of photos of cement works and herring-processing plants, c) family life. He's very good. There is one great photo (used as the lead image for the yfirlitssyning) of an artist friend of his in the cafeteria of one of the cinemas in Reykjavík. She's eating skyr, a sort of healthy low-fat Icelandic yoghurt made from cream and sugar, and looks as if she has a naturally ironic personality. I particularly like the HP sauce bottle on the left-hand-side of the image. And the conical light-fittings.

You can find a link to lots of his photos at this site.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Famous first words

I passed the first hurdle of living in a foreign country yesterday. I went into a pub and managed to order a drink in the local language. And get what I ordered. Admittedly, the phrase 'Eitt Viking' requires knowledge of only one word of Icelandic, but you have to start somewhere. And people here are so willing to and adept at using English that you has to take your opportunities where you finds them.

The next hurdle is to start eating and enjoying the local specialities. I have had a good stab at salted liquorice gums, and have even choked down a piece of the famous hákarl, or rotten shark. But whether or not I have started enjoying them is a different question. Give me time.

Invocation to the Earth Gods

This is a technologically advanced version of The Wicker Man. All we need now is to have an unwilling victim to go joy-riding. The car (or as I prefer to think of it, mobile temple) is parked outside the Town Hall - whatever this thing means, it goes all the way to the top.

Icelandic Faces 2

These were all punters at the Icelandic National Symphony Orchestra. Malcolm Arnold Symphony No. 5; Interval to sneak photos of unsuspecting Icelanders; Dmitri Shostakovich Symphony No. 12.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Constable would have had - ha ha - a field-day.

Icelandic Faces 1

The Icelandic gene pool is well-known for being small and easily studiable. However, people don't seem to be as obviously Icelandic as Russians, for example, are Russian. But this small child is fairly obviously an Icelandic small child. She is covering her ears not because she is cold, but because she is in the bell-tower of the Hallgrímskirkja and the clock is rigorously striking four forty-five.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

And then I went to Iceland...

...by myself, which wasn't as nice as it would have been to have gone with my wife. I've been here a week, and am a) homesick, b) confused, c) learning Icelandic intensively.

And we had a honeymoon...

...in St. Alban's, which had a large duckpond, as well as the pagan cathedral and the Roman ruins.

So, I got married...

...which was nice.