More slides.

This is Hverfell (or Hverfjall, something to do with whether it’s a hill or a mountain, a hair I leave Icelanders to split). Not my photo, obviously, as I didn’t have a helicopter at my disposal:


It’s a volcano, obviously, near Lake Myrvatn. We called it Dog Bowl Mountain, also obviously. All over Iceland are volcanos that have grass growing well up their slopes, but Hverfell is, after 2,900 years, still rock and cinders and dust. But you can climb it, via a steep walking path up the side. Up, up, up you climb. Pant, pant, pant. Trudge, trudge, trudge. Rest, rest, rest. You’re up very high — look at the cars in the parking lot. Like ants:


And then you come out at the top. I was expecting water down there. Instead, another heap of cinders, but in true Icelandic fashion, utterly otherworldly. The whole country looks like a Star Trek set, of about 19 different planets.


And that’s Hverfell. Let me know when you guys get tired of these pictures.

I’m exhausted, the sort of exhausted one gets when you’ve had a frustrating day, it’s too hot to go outside and the wind is just howling outside, huffing and puffing. Some of you people who are more politically savvy than me, please explain (if such a thing can even be explained): What possible motivation would Donald Trump’s campaign manager have to plant damaging stories about his own boss’ son-in-law? Because as a person who generally expects things to make a certain linear sense, I have to say I just don’t get it.

And for more entertaining Trump news, there’s this GQ profile of his 27-year-old press secretary, who has never worked in politics before. Welcome to Crazytown:

As for what arrives in Hicks’s in-box, a typical day brings upwards of 250 media requests. Usually, she alone decides who gets in and who’s kept out. But sometimes it’s Trump who plays bouncer for his own private party. “She sees the tantrums, and there are tantrums,” a source who’s been with Trump and Hicks told me. “He reads something he doesn’t like by a reporter, and it’s like, ‘This motherfucker! All right, fine. Hope?’ He circles it. ‘This guy’s banned! He’s banned for a while.’ That’s exactly how it works.” Hicks plays parole officer to an extensive and expanding blacklist of outlets and reporters (your correspondent once included) no longer welcome at his events.

While Hicks is often eager to please, she doesn’t mind upsetting the media and harbors no reverence for the civic duties of a free press. When reporters send her questions, she’s often irked—convinced they’re playing detective merely to irritate the campaign. She’s seemingly unaware that they might just be vetting a potential United States president. Often she doesn’t respond.

Finally, oncologists have had it with you mealy-mouthed pediatricians, and plan to go hard on HPV vaccines. Good for them.

Now to watch the “Game of Thrones” I missed last night because HBONow went down at the worst possible moment.

Posted at 12:13 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 50 Comments

Crazy talk.

Which one of those craggy peaks is my daughter? Reynisfjara beach, near Vik, Iceland.

One subject I find endlessly fascinating is how mental illness — specific mental illness in individuals — dovetails with contemporary culture. Once upon a time, paranoid people believed they were literally bedeviled, by incubi and succubi. This gave way to space aliens, which yielded to internet-connected “targeted individuals.” (That’s a fascinating story I just linked; you should read.) Our local electrical utility has been installing so-called smart meters over the last few years, and a number of people have appeared at city council meetings, asking that the city refuse them, because if they’re installed, the utility will know which lights you have turned on, access to your electronic devices, etc., and they have no right to this information. STOP THE SURVEILLANCE STATE, etc.

For as long as I’ve been reading newspapers, people have been killing in the name of God — bombing abortion clinics, drowning their own children, or shooting their friends and family. We understand that when these people say God or Jesus or an angel told them to do these things, they’re nuts, because we understand that the Christian God is about love and understanding.

So when a man whom circumstantial evidence would suggest was a closeted homosexual kills 49 people in a gay bar, common sense would suggest his own shame and impulses had something to do with his motive. But if he pledges allegiance to an Islamic terror group instead, we decide this is Islamic terrorism, that he was “self-radicalized” – even though he showed no other evidence of religious dedication, like time at the mosque or even living by Islamic practices – and that this is part of a global plot that must be answered with an unprecedented policy overhaul.

And that’s crazy, if you ask me.

Maybe what we need now is more Muslim immigration, so we’d read more stories like this, about a Muslim trauma surgeon in Orlando, treating the victims of the massacre. Or like this, about ordinary Muslims in Detroit, who worry about the shitstorm these events bring down on their communities. Coincidentally, they have almost the same lead:

Dearborn Heights — One fearful thought gripped Bissan Harb when she learned about Sunday’s mass shooting in Orlando, the worst in modern American history: “Please don’t let it be a Muslim.”


ORLANDO, Fla. — When Dr. Joseph Ibrahim heard that the attack at the Pulse nightclub may have been linked to terrorism, he caught himself fearing any kind of link to his own Muslim, Middle-Eastern roots.

Please, he thought, don’t let Ibrahim appear anywhere in the gunman’s name.

And with that, I think it’s safe to say we’re 100 percent repatriated after our break. I even spent my first Saturday night home at a Jimmy Buffett concert. Yes, I did. And now that I’ve done it, I never have to do it again. A friend had review tickets, good ones, because he always writes about the pregame scene outside, which I could sum up in a hashtag: #drunkwhitepeople.

That said, it was fun, although by the end I could fairly say I was sick of steel drums, the stupid talking coconut and especially the insistent pandering to the locals. By which I mean? The song – don’t ask me to name it, because I don’t know – about beautiful places. The accompanying video montage started with images of Buffettville, beaches and swaying palms and so on, but transitioned to the cool blue lakes and pine forests of Michigan, before ending with a giant map of Michigan, just in case the drunker members of the audience didn’t get it. “Just once,” I told my friend, “I want to see what happens when the crew loads the wrong video file, and the Texans get North Carolina, or vice versa.” There was also a Glenn Frey tribute – “Take it Easy,” totally defensible – that had some tacked-on images of Gordie Howe. Weak.

But it was an enjoyable evening. And for all the excess in the parking lot – we found one converted school bus with a rooftop deck and hot tub – I thought these folks had the right idea:


Just a man, his girlfriend, a cooler and a kiddie pool in the back of a pickup truck. Note their ages, too — both 21. And they were by no means the youngest people in the crowd. Give Buffett this: No one has figured out a way to brand-extend the American vacation experience like he has.

OK, have to hit the ground running tomorrow, so this will be it for the day. Many more pictures to come. Tanned, rested and ready for the week.

Posted at 12:04 am in Current events, Detroit life | 41 Comments

Just a few snaps.

And we’re back. A long trip, and I have to get right back to work Friday. I think I’ll parcel these out for a few days, but here are some highlights.

I’ve cropped and recropped this several times and can’t make up my mind — with or without the boat?


Another whale tail. Fluke, to be correct:


Feeding whales frequently attract seabirds, who scoop up the baitfish. These are Arctic terns. Again, can’t quite get the crop the way I want it:


Finally, a mountain walk near Akureyi. I was trying to get that clear-mountain-air/infinite-depth-of-field thing that makes such expeditions so memorable, like Julie Andrews singing in the Alps in the opening of “The Sound of Music,” y’know?


More later.

Posted at 8:24 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 69 Comments

The luv cave.

I said we weren’t going there, and then we went there: the cave where Jon Snow lost his virginity. Like losing one’s virginity itself, it was wildly overrated by its TV appearance. Pretty, sure, but very cramped, and the only surfaces for virginity-losin’ were rocks. The “Game of Thrones” wizards CGI’d a waterfall into the thing, and apparently added about 1,000 square feet to the place. But I got a snap, just the same.

It’s a natural grotto with a warm spring feeding into it. The signage said it was once quite moderate but volcanic activity in the 1970s pushed the temperature to blistering ranges. Bathing is currently forbidden, and with few other surfaces to display an actual human, this is the best I can do:

Jon Snow may know nothing, but I know Alan bonked his head on that sharp triangle of rock hanging down. That would take the wind out of your romantic sails p.d.q. (And unless I’m mistaken, that graffiti reads “Thor.”)

On the way there, Hverfell, which looks like a “Star Trek” alien planet set (on the other camera, sorry), and Godafoss, another waterfall that makes Niagara look like a cheap ho’:

This is Iceland around every corner. Just one OMG sight after another. 

Tomorrow is the final day — driving back south and that milky-blue tourist trap, the Blue Lagoon. 
Try not to shoot each other before I get back.

Posted at 6:13 pm in Uncategorized | 88 Comments

The swimmer, revisited.

You John Cheever fans who have read his great short story “The Swimmer,” or seen the pretty fair adaptation with Burt Lancaster in the title role, will know what I’m talking about when I tell you my new bucket-list vacation is this: 

Swimming across Iceland. A leisurely trip around the ring road, with detours into the interior, sampling the wonders of the country’s great municipal swimming pools. 

Akureyi, where we are now, is a town of about 22,000. Roughly…what? Defiance, Ohio? Auburn, Indiana? Whatever. Here’s their pool:

That’s just the outside, of course. Phones and cameras seem to be frowned upon in the pool area, so you can google it if you like. But like the one I visited in Reykjavik, it just seems to me to be the ultimate in municipal recreation — turn a few laps, then pop into the steam or one of the several hot pots, watch the towheaded toddlers squealing down the water slides, then a leisurely final shower and on with your day. 

Any anxiety over the fearsome hygiene requirements — nude shower, with soap, before entering  the water — melt away before the la-de-da attitudes of the natives. The showers are full of old women, tattooed women, tan women, pale women, Scandinavian goddesses and their great-great grannies, all washin’ up before they go into the beautiful, clean pools outside. A goddess took her shower next to me this morning, plopping her white-blonde toddler into a tub next to her. Later, I saw her outside with her husband and two other kids. The picture of healthy living under a blazing blue subarctic sky.

Yesterday was whale-watching. I feared we’d be skunked, but it was anything but — after a loop around a puffin nesting ground, we headed for an area where recent reports had been good. We were steering toward a place where a thar-she-blows puff of spray had just been sighted when a humpback suddenly leapt from the water, turning in midair to land in a great splash. And for about the next 40 minutes, that’s how it went,  just whale after whale after whale, mostly humpbacks but also minkes. I was using my other camera, so no pix from me, but Kate captured this with her phone:

[for those with browsers that don’t support the video:

And then we came back, shucked off our overall/PDFs and checked the news of the day. Ugh. 

“I don’t even want to hear about it,” said sensible Alan. But of course I’ve been reading about it for hours now. And I don’t know what to say. For whoever wondered how this was being covered overseas? Can’t say. We haven’t seen an English-language paper since Reykjavik, and that was the alt-weekly. But I’ll keep my eyes open. 

Meanwhile, have a great day, all. Mine is off to a good start. 

Posted at 7:05 am in Uncategorized | 99 Comments

Water. Falling.

Today at Gullfoss, the Niagara Falls of Iceland. And frankly, more impressive, as it’s not used for hydroelectric power, there are no casinos rising on its shores and no Maid of the Mist taking honeymooners up close, although there are scores and scores of tourists.

This is a beautiful country. On our drive today we went past farms nestled into folds of felted green that climbed hundreds of feet up volcanic mountain faces, their sweeping flatlands dotted with sheep and horses. Not a fast-food interchange to be seen (although Subway and KFC have a foothold here,  and there’s a Dunkin Donuts a block or two away from our apartment in Reykjavik). Hardly any billboards. Hardly a scrap of litter. 

Coming back to the car, Kate overshot our Toyota in the lot. “Oh,” she said when I called her back. “I didn’t know our car was missing a hubcap.” 

“It isn’t,” I said. It was. 

We figured the item was lost on a piece of rough road we’d traveled en routed, doubled back and re-traveled it at a crawl. No hubcap. We made one final pass, what the hell. FOUND IT. That was a relief, so we celebrated with pizza lunch. Mine had Parma ham, arugula and peanuts on top. Filed under: Things That Are the Same, But Different. 

Tomorrow, up to Akureyi we go, on the north coast. Hours of sunlight there: 23.5. This is disorienting, to say the least. Getting to sleep is tough enough, but can be done with an eye mask. But Iceland generally works regular hours, so after sleeping late you find yourself breakfasting at 11 am, lunching at 3:30 pm and then, at 10 p.m., saying, “Hey, anyone hungry? Let’s eat!” But everything is closed at that hour other than bars, and most bars don’t serve food. How have these socialists figured it out? Genetics, I guess. 

7:55 p.m. Here. Time to consider whether dinner will even be in the picture tonight. Have a great weekend, all. 

Posted at 3:53 pm in Uncategorized | 48 Comments

Indoors and out.

We went back to the pool today, or rather, all of us went to the pool today. We had to, because the shower in our Airbnb has fatally malfunctioned, and that was the only way we could all start the day nice and clean. Afterward, we had hot dogs, sold at a stand outside. I had the Elvis Hot Dog, seen here:

Yes, those are those little matchstick fried potatoes you buy in a can when you’re too cheap to spring for chips. (I love them; they were a preferred snack of my childhood.) What they have to do with Elvis I can’t say, as I thought he preferred fried PB&banana sandwiches, but I’m by no means an expert. However, as an American, I thought I needed to underline this little bit of overseas interpretation of US culture with an endorsement. And it was fine, although Icelanders have a strange idea of what constitutes mustard.

I think I’m done with Reykjavik, and today we picked up a car that will allow us to venture farther afield. It was cloudy today, so after the pool, we did the museums, one featuring incomprehensible modern art — my rule for these is, the longer the explanatory text on the wall placard, the worse the artistic failure — and the penis museum. Of this, I have to say: Eh. Penises, penises and more penises, and with a few exceptions, the whole thing seemed to boil down to this:

1) Penises in preservative solution inevitably end up looking like a meat accident;

2) The bigger the animal? The bigger the penis! Who knew?

Along those lines, Alan, right, with a whale dick – blue, I believe:

But of course the real action was in the gift shop, where I passed on everything, including the “It’s not for pussies” T-shirt and dick-shaped bottle opener. And these cuddly toys:

Yesterday was this modernist masterpiece:

Lutherans at their most majestic. I spotted these chairs on the altar and thought, now that’s what you call Scandinavian design at its best:

But mostly I tried to sit quietly and respectfully, because I may not be a Lutheran, but I know how to behave in a church, which is more than I can say for half the tourists there.
Time to wrap and plan for tomorrow. Keep the United States warm for me, because I’m chilling at 64 degrees N. 

Posted at 5:34 pm in Uncategorized | 78 Comments

Please shine down on me. 

Just a brief update for now. Monday was spent shaking off what was perhaps the most uncomfortable plane ride of my life – back row, which means no seat-reclining possible, but the people in front of us felt free to back-dive into our laps, a crime which should be punishable by flaying, in my opinion. 

But hey! We’re here! Reykjavik is welcoming, almost entirely English-speaking, and bright with sun. Alan, the night owl, stayed up to watch it set while I pulled my sleep mask down and tried to adjust my body clock. (Didn’t work.) I was up at 7 am and set out for the pool. The one near us is closed for renovation, so I ended up at the next-nearest one, which is? Heaven. HEAVEN, I TELL YOU. I tried to swim a few laps (in the 50-meter outdoor lap pool) but the water was so warm I yielded to its siren call to relax, stop trying so hard, just accept this amniotic bath in the spirt it’s offered, and got into one of the hot pots. Then got into another hot pot. Then tried another until, Goldilocks-like, I found the one that was juuuust riiiight. (There are at least six or eight. I lost count.)
And decided that, if Donald Trump is elected, this is where I’ll be living. Liquidate my 401K, buy a season pass and just poach myself until the nation comes to its senses. 

I didn’t take a picture; I carried only my towel into the pool area. Tomorrow, I’ll snap a few. For now, there’s just this, a snap from last night as we wandered home. This was around 11 p.m.; sunset was still 50 minutes away and it never really got dark afterward. Sunrise was around 3 a.m. 

Carry on, and I’ll check in later. 

Posted at 7:28 am in Same ol' same ol' | 52 Comments

Some last notes.

This will be the last you hear from me for a while. But when I resurface? I hope to be in the land of midnight sun. Wendy will be home with her sitter — who allows her to sleep in bed with him — and we’ll have an ocean between us.

As well as the Greenland Sea. Current temperature in Reykjavik: 48 degrees.

So just a link or two, and some requests:

Talk about whatever you want in my absence, but be advised that I don’t have much email access, or only intermittent access. So if your comment gets kicked to moderation, it’s likely to stay there a while. Try resubmitting. Please be kind to one another. I hope I get some good pictures.

Meanwhile, an interesting story on the Jonathan Weisman anti-Semitic tweet storm.

And then there was Hillary’s rather splendid throwdown yesterday:

She said she imagined Mr. Trump was “composing nasty tweets” about her even as she spoke. And indeed he was: “Bad performance by Crooked Hillary Clinton!” Mr. Trump wrote. “Reading poorly from the teleprompter! She doesn’t even look presidential.”

But Mrs. Clinton sought to turn Mr. Trump’s prolific Twitter habit into an additional bullet point demonstrating that he was “unfit” for the presidency, as she put it. She twice referred to the scene in the White House Situation Room where as secretary of state, she advised Mr. Obama on the raid on a compound in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.

“Imagine Donald Trump sitting in the Situation Room, making life-or-death decisions on behalf of the United States,” Mrs. Clinton said, eliciting cries of “No!” from her audience. “Imagine if he had not just his Twitter account at his disposal when he’s angry, but America’s entire arsenal.”

Woo. Who wrote that?

Finally, a longer read I’m not done with yet, but it’s interesting, on the genetic origins of dogs.

Bye! Wheels up for Reykjavik on Sunday. Back here eventually.

Posted at 12:10 am in Current events, Popculch | 50 Comments

First blood.

Such an exciting morning at our house. I had just cracked an egg into the pan when I noticed Wendy wagging to go outside. I opened the door, she shot out like a rocket and before I knew it, the squirrel zigged when it should have zagged and had become Wendy’s first official kill. First blood.

I think I was squeaking as much as the squirrel was. I can’t say it was entirely clean; I didn’t see any violent head-shaking, but she got the job done. Spriggy would have shaken it vigorously for a while, then trotted around with his trophy in his jaws for another while, then settled in to rend it limb from limb and fight when we tried to take it away. Wendy’s sweet personality, and perhaps a little bafflement at actually having nailed the thing, meant she basically stood over it proudly, occasionally touching it with her nose, as if to say, “Hey, get up and play some more.”

I got Alan out of bed early to do the dirty work before she tried to dismember it, roll in it or otherwise make a mess. She was bummed to have to give up the prize, and now revisits the spot whenever she’s in the yard, just to see if it’s come back, or to sniff its blood, or something.

No, I didn’t get a picture. Should have. It was a black squirrel, too; they’re generally thought to have a few more IQ points than the gray ones. My mighty huntress.

I was interrupted by Trump thoughts all day, partly because I was working my way through this David Frum essay about him. Title: The Seven Broken Guardrails of Democracy, just in case you think essay titles can’t be too portentous. He makes a few good points, although it’s hard to take seriously a piece that approvingly quotes both Rod Dreher and Jonah Goldberg. Frum makes the point that even if Trump is flattened in November, the damage is done. A presidential candidate has boasted about his penis on a national stage (in Detroit! Hometown represent!). Can’t rebottle that genie. I came away from it thinking I need to chat up my old boss Derek, whose head is a data-analyzing computer; he’ll point to an electoral map and tell me to stop worrying and start preparing for President Hillary, and I will, for a while.

At the same time, one of the things that makes life so interesting is how you really never know what’s coming tomorrow. And the night is dark and full of terrors, to quote a little “Game of Thrones.”

And there’s this, an account of this week’s Trump presser about the veterans fundraiser:

He actually believes that it’s the job of political reporters covering a presidential candidate to write “Thank you very much, Mr. Trump.” It’s not the press’ job to discover the truth or ask questions or hold the powerful accountable; their job is to promote him and compliment him. And when he doesn’t get the glowing coverage he wants, he attacks.

I’m trying not to get tired of saying this, but just try to imagine what the reaction would be if Hillary Clinton came out to defend herself against some perfectly reasonable questions, and said “The press should be ashamed of themselves” or pointed to a reporter and said, “You’re a sleaze.” She wouldn’t be criticized or questioned, she’d be crucified. Reporters would ask if she had lost her mind and was having a nervous breakdown. There would be demands for her to pull out of the race immediately, since she had shown herself to be so unstable.

It’s going to be a real challenge for reporters covering Trump to continue to ask the questions they ask of every candidate, to demand answers and to point out falsehoods — which is already a herculean task when it comes to Trump, since he delivers so many of them. That’s not easy to do when you know your subject is going to assault you over it. And it’s not likely to change.

Ai yi yi.

Loose ends: The water test came back. No lead, no copper, no problems. No neurotoxins. Thanks, beb!

Finally, you know how zillionaires are always threatening to move to less-tax-y places unless they’re properly honored? Few of them do.

Posted at 12:01 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 46 Comments