A Skirmish of Wit

The semi-coherent, occasionally amusing, usually grammatically correct ramblings of a recovering English major.

31 August 2010

"... one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages." as you like it i, vii

Another year past. Last week I had yet another birthday. Amazing how those things keep coming.

Although I had kind of given up posting here, it's not so much that nothing was happening. In fact it was more that so much was happening that I couldn't really get a handle on things in such a way that I could write about any of it.


In some ways I know that I am pretty much the same person I was last year and the year before; I still have the same sense of humor, I know that I surely have the same flaws, and, I hope, the same good qualities that I've always had. I guess what I'm finding in myself that is new is a much greater sense of perspective. The older I get, the grayer everything gets. It was so easy as a younger woman to be confident of things in a black and white world, but the lines have gone all fuzzy now. It's not that I don't have opinions, but it's a lot easier now for me to hear the opinions of others. I think it gives me a better view on things in general, but overall I wouldn't say it's made life easier, particularly.

I think the thing that is frustrating to me about the ongoing birthday problem is the realization that I truly always will be a work in progress. There's never going to be a year where I say, this is it, let's stay right at this point and cruise from here on out -- no need to make any more changes. I guess I know, truthfully, that this would be a boring existence, but it would be nice for a birthday to come around and for me to say to myself, you know, this is where I thought I'd be right now. I suppose it's not out of the realm of possibility, but the thing is, my expectations of who I am and who I ought to be become altered based on the experiences I have. So even if I were to reach the point, say, ten years from now, that I currently think I ought to be at then, there's really a pretty good chance that by then, my expectation of what I ought to be at that point will have completely changed.

I suppose it's the way of things.


Things I think I've done a good job of improving on this year: Enjoying the moment. Acknowledging appreciation of others. Forthrightness. Self-care. Acknowledging what I know I can't do alone.

Things I think could probably still use major renovations: Trying to control situations beyond my control. Procrastination. Turning off a racing mind. Eating a good variety of food. Sitting still with my thoughts.


Fall is on the way now, and I'm glad. Fall has the best of everything: days where it's so nice you want to be outside and move around and absorb the sun and the crisp air and all that is around you, as well as days where you turn inward, cozy up alone or with loved ones, and take care of what's going on inside. It's a good time to look for perspective, to try and get right with things as much as you can before winter, when it's all about being turned inward.

And so, onward.

28 June 2010

"like him that travels I return again" sonnets cix

My need to rant about things has encouraged me to pick up this blog, two years later. For a while I just didn't really have anything to say, but a reoccuring experience I've had in the last few weeks has left me feeling the need to throw my thoughts out into the ether again.

So here's the scenario: I'm walking down the street, just a normal stroll to run some errands. I pass by a dude, and happen to make brief eye contact. The dude goes, "Hi." Now, I don't know the guy, but I also don't want to live in a world where people can't just say "hi" as they pass on the street. So I say "Hi," back. Not in an inviting way, just in a, hey, we're two human beings passing on the street kind of way.

Then the guy says something to the effect of "you look really nice" or the like. Nothing lascivious, nothing inappropriate, but by actively commenting on my appearance, now we're pushing the bounds of personal space, I feel. However, at this point, all he's done is say hello and then paid me a seemingly ok compliment. So, not wishing to be rude, I say, somewhat brusquely but not rudely, "Thanks," and continue walking.

Apparently accepting this compliment is construed as an invitation. Now the guy says -- and this is verbatim, and has happened in exactly these words three times recently -- "Can I get your number?"

OK. So, we went from, let's be civil, to ok you're a little forward but haven't said anything actually objectionable, to, completely unwanted advance.

So where should I have stopped this? I don't want to be someone who scowls whenever someone I don't know tries to speak to me. I want to be open minded, not pre-judge people, and engage with the world around me. But what should I have done differently to avoid the unwanted advance? I don't want to not say hello to someone when they say it to me. When they pay me a compliment, as I said, it's an unobjectionable one, but should I scowl at that point regardless, now that prior experience sets off the alarm bell?

This may be partly a case of the "nice girl" syndrome -- perhaps I don't want to be perceived as not a nice and pleasant girl, lest I be judged not feminine, etc. -- but I really think it has more to do with a desire not to shut off from the world around me because of a few bad apples.

I'm curious what others think about this ...

25 July 2008

"so bedazzled with the sun" the taming of the shrew: iv, v

The day of the whale watch was our last full day in Reykjavik. The next day we’d scheduled a stop at The Blue Lagoon on our way to the airport – there’s a company that basically offers a combo shuttle to the airport with a stop at the Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is billed as this “natural spa” type of thing; it’s a geothermal pool that has certain minerals like silica that are supposed to be so good for your skin, and it’s this kind of ethereal milky blue color, and tourists positively flock> there to go and sit in it and relax and whatever else. Here’s the thing: the Blue Lagoon is really nothing more than industrial runoff. The only difference is that it’s runoff from a clean energy source, so it’s clean water. What happened was, they built a plant for converting the geothermally heated water into the energy source that is used throughout the country, and there was this hot water output from the plant, which they intended to have just run off into the land surrounding the plant. But what they didn’t count on was the fact that the silica created a seal that prevented the water from draining into the volcanic rock, so a pool formed. Apparently people began sneaking in to enjoy the hot water, and then in 1999 someone decided that they could make some money on this thing, and built up dressing rooms, restaurants, and now even a hotel and spa.

So anyway, we went to this place. It was windy, and driving rain, and we’re looking around at all these people, and at ourselves, huddling in this milky blue water, and V. and I looked at each other almost simultaneously and said “This is really silly.” It is. It’s silly. It’s a total tourist trap. We got out after about a half hour and showered and got dressed. I honestly noticed no difference in my skin, and my hair felt dried out and gross. So, really, if you go to Reykjavik, my advice is, skip the Blue Lagoon and hit up a hot pot at a public pool before you go to the airport.

The flight home was delayed by about an hour, and it was packed. There were, I thought, an inordinate number of small children on the plane, as well. Most of them were pretty well behaved, but there was one, sitting fairly close to me, whose only mode of communication seemed to be screeching at top volume. The best part of the flight home was that when we passed over Greenland, the skies were very clear, and we were able to look down and see it. There were a lot of icebergs along the coast, and we could see glaciers and glacial deltas and lakes, and mountains. I’ve been asked if I could see any signs of melting, along the lines of climate change, and all I can say is that I don’t really know – I mean, there were a lot of icebergs, and there were some mountains that were completely snow-free (although the mainland on the whole was quite snow-covered), but on the other hand it is the middle of July, and I can only assume that some level of melting is normal at this time. In any case, it was really just amazing to be able to see such a place from above and it felt like a real treat, since I imagine that the area is often covered in clouds.

And then we were home. It was a great trip, and of course I wish I’d had more time to explore each place we visited more. But overall, I really felt lucky to enjoy the opportunity to see some new places and meet new people. And, I got the chance to learn first-hand the answer to this question: What does midnight in July look like in Reykjavik?

24 July 2008

"very like a whale" hamlet: iii, ii

After the rafting/hiking excursion finished up, we met up with a few people we'd met on the tour -- a Danish couple named Laurids and Jane (pronounced "Yena") and a young American man writing a travel book named Andrew. We had dinner at, of all places, a Mexican restaurant. And I'll be damned if it wasn't some of the best Mexican food I've had since leaving the Southwest!! The family that owns it is from Mexico. This was the best part though: So, many places in Reykjavik stop serving food at like 10pm. The five of us arrived at the restaurant (which had been recommended to us by our tour guide as "really good" and "serves food late") at about 9:50pm, and were told that the kitchen had just closed. Here's where it was awesome: V. made a sad noise and said to the hostess, in his friendly way, "Tell the chef that I came all the way from Juarez just to come here!" (this is close to true -- he grew up in a border town close to Juarez.) She regarded him for a minute and said "Ok, one minute." She disappeared into the kitchen and returned a minute later with some menus and sat us right away. Our new friends were, I think, impressed, as was I!

The next day we met up with our three new friends again to try out this awesome place called "Sushi -- The Train." It was so cool!! Basically, you sit at this long bar, and there is this conveyor belt that comes around the whole bar, and the kitchen sends out little plates with sushi on it, and you pick the ones you want and they just charge you by the plate!

From there we parted ways with Andrew, who had to rush off to his next stop on his schedule, and we headed over to the football stadium. This was my first experience at a European football match. It was Reykjavik's team, Valur, versus neighboring Keflavik. While small in scale, the energy was high. I managed to catch one or two action shots of the game:

We'd chosen to root for Valur, the team in red, since they were the home team. In the end, Valur managed to pull out a tie. All four of us bought some kind of team colors to wear at the match; Laurids and Jane each got a jersey, I got a cap, and V. got a jersey and a cap. After the match we all walked back into town and we went into a shop together. The clerk at the shop kind of looked us up and down and then finally said, "do you mind my asking why you guys are wearing all those Valur shirts?" We told her we'd just been to the game. She shook her head like that was very strange (I get the sense football's not a big draw for tourists in Iceland), and she said "Not even Icelanders wear that much color." Ok, message received. We look like tools.

V. and I went out that night in search of the great Icelandic local music scene that everyone raves about. It was a Saturday night, and we'd heard things don't pick up on Saturdays until about midnight, so we took a little rest and headed out around 11. We ran into a Dutch couple who we knew from the guesthouse we were staying at, and we went with them to try and find this place called NASA, which supposedly is the place to go for live music. So we arrive there only to find that not only is there a foreign DJ there that night but there is also a gagillion kronur cover charge. So that was no good. We ended up hitting a few bars and just hanging out and talking and people watching.

Here's my impression of the nightlife scene in Reykjavik, and bear in mind this is from the perspective of someone who doesn't really go out to bars and clubs all that much anymore, but who used to go out a pretty fair amount in NYC. Reykjavikans seem to thrive on trendiness, dressing up, and getting as pissed drunk as possible. No one's really violent or jerky, but they're all really, really drunk. Most people seem to pre-game pretty heavily because alcohol is prohibitively expensive. Not only that, but there is a line to get into almost every place you might want to go, even if the place isn't totally packed. We walked past one place that - I kid you not - had about 10 people inside, with a line of about 40 outside. It's like if you don't have to wait on line to get in, people don't want to go. Everyone's dressed to the nines, and if you're wearing something that doesn't look "smart" enough to the bouncer, you won't be let in. Some people find that awesome, I find it incredibly boring, and frankly, none of the bars there are awesome enough to warrant that kind of exclusivity. As we were heading home at about 2:30, most places were just heating up, since in general places don't close until about 6 or 7am. There was one place we passed by that had a second-floor balcony that overlooked the street, and the people up there were chucking empty bottles at passerby on the street. Classy! I can see why you'd need to get all dressed up for that.

Our last full day there, we poked around town, hit a small museum that had an exhibit about a volcanic mountain and also one about the Icelandic sagas, and then late that afternoon we were set to head out on a whale watch, along with Laurids and Jane. Now, this was the first day we were there where the weather was not picture perfect. Up until then, it had been sunny and about 65 - 70 degrees, crisp and clean. This day was very drizzly and windy, which I'm told is kind of the default setting in Iceland. So it was less than ideal weather for being on a boat, but we were optimistic.

At the dock, the people getting off the previous whalewatch were all smiles, saying things like "fantastic!" So we felt pretty good about things getting on the boat.

As we pulled out into the harbour, it started to get windier and choppier by the minute. After about 30 minutes, we got out to where they said we may begin to see some whales. Finally, we were told to look over to 11:00 on the boat, as there was a minke whale. I was standing right at 11:00, and I saw a brief flash of a dorsal fin, way too fast to get a picture. Meanwhile about 50 people pressed against me trying to get a look. Then there was supposedly something at 3:00 -- well, no way I was going to get over there, with all the people between me and there. Again at 3:00, and again. Something supposedly at 9:00. I didn't see it. The thing with the minke whales is that, unlike humpback whales, which I've seen on other whale watches, they don't even put their tails up when they make a dive. So you might see their dorsal fin for a second, but then that's it. There's no warning, really, and no big moves. The whales were all business on this day; no jumping or hanging out at the surface. This wouldn't have been so bad, but the tour guide kept trying to tell us how great these sightings were. "What an amazing sighting!" she'd cry after a brief flash of a fin. "Spectacular! We've seen four minke whales already!!" Lady, don't tell me what's spectacular. I'll be the judge of that.

Meanwhile, the wind and swells were really picking up, and I was trying my best to snap pictures of the whale fins I did see.

That last one I actually lost my footing and ended up with a picture of my jacket.

So I didn't get any pictures of whales, I barely saw any at all. Or so I thought, until I was going through my photos today (click on the photo to see it bigger):

So, there it is. I saw a whale.

This post is getting quite long, so the rest of the trip will be continued in another post.

22 July 2008

"with rocks unscalable and roaring waters" cymbeline: iii, i

This was the last fortune cookie I got before I left on my trip:

It's the only fortune cookie I can remember getting that has actually turned out to be true!

I'm back in the States now, my time in Reykjavik just a memory. We had 4 days there and in some ways, it was what I expected, but more often than not, it took me completely by surprise. As I expected, it's a beautiful, unbelievable place. It never got fully dark, it was a crisp, cool temperature in the middle of July. The landscape and the sea were breathtaking, and the people were fun and, also, beautiful; they look like elves in the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings sense. But what took me by surprise is the sense that this country is still kind of an outpost on the edge of the world. V. described it best when he said it's almost what you imagine the Old West in America felt like. Tough, practical people by day, who party like every night is the end of the world.

When we arrived in Rekjavik, we were pretty much exhausted. The first full day we were there, we kind of just took it easy and poked around town. The next day, we went on an excursion that took us on what is called "The Golden Circle," which is basically a tour around a number of spots where there are natural phenomenon. We saw the rift valley where the North Atlantic and European tectonic plates meet.

(You can click on all photos to make them bigger!)

We also went to a place called Þingvellir National Park, which is the site of what they call "the oldest national parliment," which is a reference to the fact that in the early days of Iceland's history, chieftains from all the tribes in the country would gather at this site periodically to go over laws and agreements. What was kind of funny about this was that, up until the 11th century, Icelanders had no written language; everything was verbal. So, basically, the chieftains would go to parliament, and then bring back the rules of law to their tribes or villages, but the villagers would have to trust that a) the chieftain remembered the rules correctly, and b) he wasn't just making shit up. The spot where they met was a beautiful cliff with a waterfall that the Icelanders redirected back in the middle ages so that they would have easy access to water during parliament meetings.

From there we moved on to Geysir, so named for the geothermal activity that goes on there, complete with its namesake, Geysir (the word geysir is an Icelandic word!):

along with some geothermal pools and things

After this part of the excursion, we were off to do some whitewater rafting on the Hvítá river. This was just a ton of fun. Obviously I couldn't take any photos of it. So you'll have to believe me that it was awesome, and in the middle of the trip they pull off into this little cove and give you a chance to go cliff jumping into the rapids, and I DID IT! Ok, so I almost didn't do it -- I stood at the top of the cliff looking down for about 10 minutes, against the advice of the rafting guide. "Don't look down!" he cried. "You should look out across the river!!" But of course I had already looked down; it was too late. Finally, after V. had made his second jump, I just did it, and I was so glad I did!! It was a great feeling.

After the rafting trip we stopped by Gullfoss, a huge, 3 tiered waterfall.

I really took that last photo there, too!! Believe me when I tell you that every time you look around in Iceland, you are seeing views like this.

More to follow in an upcoming post ...

16 July 2008

"willingly I came to denmark" hamlet: i, ii

So, I’m writing this on the flight to Iceland, where we’ll spend our last few days abroad. Our time in Copenhagen was a lot of fun and as an added bonus, we have a friend from college, Søren, who is from there and was able to meet up with us for a couple hours each day. It was great catching up with him, and also a treat to have a local with us who could give us the lowdown on what we were seeing.

The day we arrived, Søren came and picked us up and took us North to Elsinore, also known as the setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. There is a castle there, quite beautiful, but what is funny is that they have to take very careful pains to indicate that there was no such man as Hamlet; the play is what we call “fiction.” Apparently they have a problem with people thinking he was real, which to me would be the same as thinking that just because a book is set in a real place, say, London, that the characters must be real too, like, say, Harry Potter.

At any rate, they do have an exhibit that talks about the story of Hamlet, its origins, and its literary impact, which I enjoyed. With that out of the way, they are able to move on to real history, which is abundant in this place. We climbed up to the roof of the tower and had a nice long look around the shoreline. It was a beautiful, if windy, place. According Søren, constant wind is basically a characteristic feature of Denmark.

After the castle, we hopped in the car and took a nice leisurely drive back to town.

Oh, did I mention that Søren has, uh, the SWEETEST ride in all of Copenhagen??

We stopped for a bite to eat in the town of Elsinore, where V. surprised Søren by being the first non-Danish person he’d met who enjoyed red herring smørrebroød (an open faced sandwich). Then we made our way back into town. V. and I took a nice stroll through the Copenhagen city center and got a feel for the place, had a little ice cream (there is an ice cream stand on every block in Copenhagen) and then called it a night.

Yesterday, we got up early, hopped on a train to the north end of town and made our way back across the city on foot. We started out up by the Little Mermaid sculpture, which is pretty and all, but it’s also pretty small, and pretty crowded with tourists. About 30 seconds there was enough time to snap a picture and to decide I’d had my fill of Texans.

From there we headed down through the city fortifications, past St. Alban’s church, and down to the Queen’s palace.

(Image courtesy V.’s excellent photography skilz. Click on image to make larger.)

Down through some smaller streets, and then we climbed up the Round Tower, which is the only tower of its kind in Europe. It’s got a spiral ramp instead of stairs, and at the top there’s a great view of the city.

A little more strolling through the city led us to a pretty good Turkish restaurant for some lunch. Afterwards, we headed down to the docks for a canal tour. The tour took us through many of the small canals that run through various neighborhoods, out into the harbor to see a number of new buildings. They brought us around to see the Little Mermaid, and at that point you get to see the absurd crowds gathered around taking pictures of this sculpture.

Dinner that night with Søren at an Asian place called Wagamami. Very delicious food, and Søren explained to us that if we leave tips in Denmark, we’re getting taken for a ride. We had a nice stroll over the bridge into Christianshavn. By the way, pretty much everything in Copenhagen was invented by King Christian IV and therefore everything is named after him. Christianshavn is not to be confused with Christiana, a totally different part of town.

After we parted ways with Søren, V. and I popped into the very well lit “Erotic Museum.” Seriously, its huge neon sign can be seen from 7 blocks away. It was kind of fun and some of the history of erotic literature and legend in Copenhagen was interesting, but somehow I felt like it was lacking. I guess I just expect a lot out of erotic museums…

That rounded out the Copenhagen portion of our trip.

The rest of this entry is written after landing in Reykjavik, after my computer’s battery died on the plane. Reykjavik is a really, really interesting city. In a way it feels very European, but in another sense, it’s kind of the opposite, because everything here is so new. Nearly all the buildings sprang up in the last century, and many of them in the latter half of it.

One of the things Reykjavik has a lot of is public pools. We headed over to one near us after arriving today, and boy was it great! They use geothermal heat to keep the pools temperate. Also, there are these “hot pots” which are like Jacuzzis, sort of, except without jets and, again, geothermally heated. And they are so clean!! They tell people they have to shower before getting into the pool, and everyone does it. As a result, they don’t use so much chlorine in the pool as they do in the US, and it’s so nice to come out not smelling like chemicals.

Right now it is midnight and it is still dusk. I don’t think it’s going to get much darker than this. Very, very strange. I’m pretty sure I won’t have any trouble sleeping tonight, though.

14 July 2008

"the beauteous majesty of denmark" hamlet: iv, v

So tonight we sleep in Copenhagen. Yesterday and today were a whirlwind and I'm pretty pooped. But I'll just take a run through what we've done ...

Yesterday we'd planned on getting back to the sculpture garden but it didn't work out. (Ok, we overslept.) Instead we headed over to the fortress to check out the Royal Castle, the Norwegian Resistance Museum (detailing the Resistance during WWII), and the Military Museum. All in all, the Resistance Museum was the best of the three by far; the care and emotion that had been put into the exhibit really lent something to the experience. In contrast, the castle was pretty much just a castle, and one without much information at that, and the military museum was like any other military museum.

From there, it was time to board the boat to Copenhagen!

The boat took us down through the fjords of Norway, south over the North Sea and into Copenhagen, and it took all night to get there.

On the boat they had a variety of things to keep us all occupied instead of climbing the walls. There was a, uh, DJ in the "nightclub" on the top deck (read: "empty trainwreck"), and below that was the "piano bar" option (read: "desperate smoke-filled room where you could hear phonetically sounded out renditions of "Proud Mary"). And then there was the Columbus Room. The Columbus Room contained a band whose name I sadly cannot remember, but it was something awesome like "Mixed Company" or something. They were playing all the golden oldies to a room full of prancing pre-teen girls and aging couples dancing around their giant handbags. Towards the end of the evening, when there were only about 10 people left in the room, the lead singer pulled out a set of pan-pipes and played "Don't Cry for Me Argentina." The highlight, though, was either when they sang "Billie Jean is Not My Lover," or when, at our request, they begrudgingly played "Waterloo." I sound like I'm making fun, and I guess I kind of am, but on the other hand, I have respect for musicians like that who can play a variety of instruments and a lot of different styles of music. In a way it must be heartbreaking to play a venue like that; like the worst wedding possible times five.

So the next morning when we got up, we were nearly in Copenhagen.

And the rest will have to wait until another post, as it's been a long day .....