2012 Michigan Supreme Court and 22nd Circuit Court Ballot Information

Tuesday’s ballot has a few sections for electing judges—you know, that part of the ballot where you go OH HELL, I WISH I’D READ / STILL HAD A CITY PAPER—so here’s where it matters. Nobody’s challenging some of the incumbents, so we’ll just skip those. The Michigan Supreme Court nominees are elected to eight-year terms for the entire state; the 22nd Circuit Court is specific to Washtenaw County. I’m not going to tell you who I’m voting for, but if you know me well as a person and a designer, you’re not going to be surprised. I did this mostly so I’ll remember who to vote for… writing things down makes it easier to remember them later.

Justice of the Supreme Court—U Pick 2, like @ Panera

Justice of the Supreme Court (Partial Term ending Jan. 1, 2015)—Pick 1

22nd Circuit Court Judge, Incumbent—Pick 1

22nd Circuit Court Judge—Pick 1

Bees

The concern over the ACA being upheld this week reminded me of the subject of a few videos I saw recently: bees.  Like most of you probably, I’ve had an interesting relationship with bees. As a very young child, I was warned to avoid them.  Despite that, I still managed to get stung pretty badly on the throat at a neighborhood gathering. I didn’t provoke the bee, but it happened, and subsequently, I was terrified of them.

We moved to Oceanside, California, where bees flourished in the good weather and ample flowers, probably helped by our next-door neighbor, who kept a couple of apiaries. At least at that time: we lived in a subdivision that was carved out of old farmland, largely still used as farms. Our sub was a first of many, and so now the area is unrecognizable to me, and the bees are probably all dead.

The boomer dream: development, development everywhere, and not a field to be seen!

Anytime a bee would come near me, I’d freak out completely and try to whack it to death while running in the opposite direction. Poor bees. That behavior stopped around the time I witnessed a bee mistakenly sting an inanimate object and disembowel itself, slowly, and then die. Poor bee, I thought, I am sorry your life was cut short in such a futile way.

I decided it would be best to just avoid anything that flowered.

Several years ago, just prior to the rise of Colony Collapse Disorder, I took a personal interest in bees again. I had a neighbor who owned vicious dogs, and I wanted to see what the local laws were about dog ownership. I didn’t find anything directly useful about dogs, but I learned that I could keep chickens and up to TWO apiaries on my property. I thought it might be pretty novel to get a couple hives, mount them on the fence between our properties and let nature take its course. There are even local beekeeping courses! My plan never unfolded, but I had a new respect for bees.

Here are some pretty impressive videos about Japanese hornets vs. bees of European and Japanese varieties. The first video is a 3-minute video of a Japanese Giant Hornet scout coming across a hive of Japanese honeybees, and how the bees respond to the scout. The Japanese name for the giant hornet is “Giant Sparrow Bee”—and you can see why:

What’s interesting is that it omits the rather creepy and possessed sound the bees make when the intruder enters the hive. It’s surprising the giant hornets haven’t learned they should get out of there when the bees start harmonizing, around 20 seconds into this clip. For fun, press the CC button, turn on captions and then turn on translate (the narration and music is far more excited in this clip, which even includes a heatmap of the bee ball):

This next bit is the hornets vs. the European honeybee. We don’t have these terrible hornets in the west, but the Japanese farmers like the European honeybee because their yields are higher. Unfortunately, these bees don’t have any learned defense against the giant hornets. It’s depressing to watch, and I recommend watching the Japanese bees kicking ass again after this one:

If you’ve seen Isabella Rossellini’s “Green Porno” series, you won’t be surprised to see her latest collaboration with Burt’s Bees. These film shorts seek to educate about the honeybee and encourage people to create hospitable environments to encourage bees to thrive in adverse conditions. In these three clips, “Burt”, played by Rossellini, meets the queen, discovers the plight of drones, learns the social structure of the hive, and how honey is made:

Back to the ACA: like the bees taking care of their society, we’re all in this together. And unlike the case of European bees sentenced to a horrible death in Japan, if it really doesn’t work out, we can always change things.

Be nice to bees.  Plant some wildflowers if you can.

Yankee Doodle Dandy

My grandfather would have been 92 today, and this marks the first Fourth of July I’ve been away from my family in a long time, and the first without him: he was our Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Pappy—always stylish—telling stories with friends at his 60th in 1980.  Check out the festive napkins in the back!

As a young child, before I understood what exactly Independence Day was, I couldn’t quite believe that people set off fireworks for my grandfather’s birthday. But I discreetly accepted it: he was involved in city politics, people loved him, and that must be why someone ordered up fireworks every year.  Those other city employees, maybe they just weren’t as loved—but I was glad my Pappy was!

Pretty much every year that I had the opportunity, I spent the 4th with my grandfather on his day. As a teenager, this led to some ire on the part of friends who thought it was some weird cover for getting out of going to whatever party they were having at their house. As a kid, the 4th meant good food, family, pool and fireworks at my wily Uncle Jack’s house. A lot of the cities in southern California banned fireworks at the time, so this was a pretty big deal. (That I had the opportunity to blow my fingers off as a kid in Japan a few years later, where there was no age-restriction on purchasing fireworks, was an even bigger deal. And unexpected, in such a safety-oriented culture…)

Pappy at his 90th!

In more recent years, I really made the effort to be home for his birthday—I didn’t really know how many more we’d have left together. I only missed one in 2008, at his request: I’d just sold the house, and was under duress because one of the contingencies was that I move out in 3 weeks.  When the housing market looked like it was about to go over a cliff, I was willing to do anything to get out! He understood, so I made sure to be there the next year.

This year I know the family will get together, and it will be different. But I can also hear my grandather saying, “Good heavens, my dear boy, don’t be silly and waste time on me.  Go have fun!”  So I wanted to celebrate a little differently too, and recognize my grandfather’s love of travel: I’ve spent the week exploring Michigan’s upper peninsula. Last night, we were in St. Ignace, and for the 4th, we’ll be going over to Mackinac Island for the day.  It is especially fitting, because the last extended road trip he and my grandmother took was to Mackinac Island, about 13 years ago.

Yesterday, when I crossed a river that shares his last name, I knew I was headed in the right direction.

Happy birthday, Pappy, and happy fourth of July to everyone!

Facebook

I signed up for Facebook sometime in the Fall of 2007.  After Friendster (why?), Orkut (too closed—and G+ didn’t learn anything from that; BRAZILIANS!) and MySpace (getting there, but indulging everyone’s inner kindergartner a little too much), I really didn’t think much would come of social networking, so I promptly did nothing.

I don’t even know why I signed up.

In Feb. of 2008, I traveled to Savannah, Georgia, to attend the IxDA ’08 conference.  While there, I realized I didn’t have a calling card: my business cards were out-of-date (and embarrassingly boring) and my personal website was stuck in 1997.  The organizers had made an attempt to create an online social group for the conference that required you to build a personal profile.  When it came to website… I hesitated.

And then realized that Facebook might just come in handy.

I switched over and set up my Facebook profile, adding a photo and filling out various bits of information.  Unfortunately, at that time, Facebook was more closed and less user-friendly: the URL looked ugly, and when you clicked on it, you couldn’t see much other than the fact that you and I were not friends.

I made no friends that way, but suddenly, Facebook was a little more interesting.  Friends of mine commented on my spiffy new photo and invited me to play Scrabulous (“Words with Friends” in 2008).  Photos?  Online games?  It was like The Sierra Network in 1993, or AOL.  The public internet had finally crossed the chasm and embraced what it made fun of when the AOL newbies were unleashed upon it in 1993.

I use Facebook frequently now.  I keep up with my far-flung family, I get news from it, I find out about cool upcoming events: it’s very handy!  But I find myself checking it—without even thinking—for that little hit of dopamine, more often than I’d like.  And frankly, people are just not updating or doing things fast enough to keep up with my addiction.   I have become a rat in a cage.   So I’m going to take a break and see what it’s like.  It’s been four years, Facebook.  We need a little time away.

See you in the spring.

Pappy

At his 60th wedding anniversary in 2007.

When I was little, the one thing that frustrated me about my Pappy was his name: it was impossible to find a card to wish him a happy birthday, or any other holiday.  There was every permutation of “grandfather” except for the one I happened to use.  It’s one of the many things that made him unique.  Nobody else I knew had a Pappy.

And now, no longer do I.

Before I go on, I want to say that he was 91 years old, and he had an amazing life.  After a trying childhood, he made the best of life, and life rewarded him for it.  He was married to my grandmother until the day he died, he had two daughters and four grandchildren he loved tremendously, and he never wanted for anything.  He was also mentally sharp and full of stories until the very end.  His heart just finally gave out.  I was close to him, and I’m sad, but I’m happy to say it is possible to live a wonderful life and go relatively peacefully.

He and my grandmother had just moved into an assisted living facility a few months ago after he’d had a heart attack; we thought it was just too much for them to keep living on their own.  When I saw him at Thanksgiving, he seemed himself.  When I saw him at Christmas, he seemed much more delicate—he was paler and seemed to be fading, despite his ability to socialize and tell stories—and I wondered if his time might be near.  Before I left, he suggested I could buy him a book of poetry again for his birthday that I’d bought for him years ago, which had gotten lost in the move to the new place.

I sent it as soon as I could.

He died around 3:00AM EST Monday morning.  My mother had called me Sunday night to tell me he’d had another heart attack and was in the hospital, but he was alert and seemed to be doing fine.  He had another shortly thereafter and Mom was concerned he might not make it, and then finally one early in the morning…

That night, I played an old album to hear its coda, a song called “Hello, Hello (Turn Your Radio On)”, that I’d discovered unexpectedly stuck in my head.

Pappy was born and raised in San Francisco, California by my widowed and peripatetic great-grandmother Norene—’Rene to her family.  His father caught tuberculosis and died when he was young, and life with my great-grandmother sounds like it was a trying adventure at times.

Circa 1980.

After graduating from Cal in Berkeley, he eventually made his way down to southern California—Long Beach to be exact—and began a career with the city after marrying “the girl from Grande Island”.  He spent his entire career working for the city, eventually working all the way up to Assistant City Manager, and after a scandal, Acting City Manager, and retired after realizing the Mayor would never have him as City Manager due to his long affiliation with the previous one.  My grandfather was never bitter, though.  He’d had a great time, great experiences and he was ready to move on to the next phase in his life.

My grandfather loved us.  I was his #1 grandson, and of course, politically astute as he was, I became his “first” grandson after the other two came along.  He never failed to share his pride in me.  As little kids, we spent lots of time riding horses to Banbury Cross on his knee.

I’d like to think my sense of optimism comes from him; when I was disappointed in something, he’d start singing “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive“, and as cheesy as it sounds, it demonstrated to me that I had a choice in my disappointment.  I could carry it around (and sometimes I do—on purpose) or I could choose to move past it.  Most of the time, moving past it pays off in the long run.

Having a laugh over the assisted living menu with Rob

My grandfather was incredibly generous, and besides sharing his sense of style and his wardrobe, one story stands out for me.  When I was a young teen, I was really into personal computers.  I’d helped build the one we had at home with my father.  In the late 80s, PCs were still kind of crusty: you might have a hard drive, you might have color graphics, but you usually didn’t have any sound but a tinny beeping speaker.  I was envious of my friends who had souped-up Atari 800s and Amiga 500s.  When was the music ever going to show up at my house?  Why were PCs so retrograde after the Commodore 64?

Enter the AdLib Synthesizer, a card you plugged into the back of your PC that gave you up to 9 channels of FM synthesized sound, a drastic improvement over that tinny speaker.  It cost around $100, well out of my reach.  I’d only learned about it by reading the included literature in one of the many games I’d bought.  I didn’t think my parents could (or would want to) afford it, so I decided to write to my grandparents to see if they could help me get one.  I was very enterprising, pointing out all the things I could do with it, and how it would add a new dimension to the thing I spent most of my time doing.

I didn’t expect them to go along with the idea: it was a green card that went into a computer to give it sound.  It didn’t sound interesting, and it seemed like it would be a boring thing to consider for anyone else.

Instead, I got a letter in which Pappy wrote: “ask, and ye shall receive”.  It blew my mind.  It also made me realize how special it was that he could do that, and how fortunate I was to be his grandson.  And, that I should never abuse it, but respect it, and find my own way to pay it forward when I had the ability to do so.

Telling a story this past Christmas, as always.

That letter, and many like it, were a lifeline to a family back home in the US.  When we moved to Japan, it took time for me to make friends, and Pappy helped fill that void by writing me letters.  I think he also knew how disappointed I was that my friends back in the States weren’t particularly inclined to write me back, and so he decided to fill in the gap.  Those letters would come 3-4 pages in a stack, usually front and back, often with a small note from my grandmother as well.  He loved to write, and I loved to read.  And as long as I wrote him back, he’d write in return.

I have boxes of letters from our time in Japan and beyond.  Once we started the habit, we kept it going until they moved back east to be closer to the family, well into my 20s.  His letters stressed to me the importance of keeping up your end of the conversation, regardless of the medium.

They also demonstrated how much he loved me.

As I flew to Atlanta today, I looked out into the blue sky and thought about him dwelling in rays of light, and how he’d be happy I was traveling as he liked to so much.

I miss you already, Pappy.

Does Rick Snyder Hate Gay People?

It’s me again, yes how did you guess?
‘Cause the last time, you were really impressed
And I’m bolder, cold getting colder
And at the very same time I heat up at a party
And solder
But not with solar power
For far too long made mistakes
And allowed a fat and ugly thing to get in my way…

What would drive a man to quote Betty Boo?  You know, the next thing I really wanted to write about was Yoko Ono and Iceland.  Tonight, however, I’m pissed, and bad ridiculousness needs to be followed up with some good ridiculousness.

I live in Michigan, where our One Tough [Pandering] Nerd of a governor just signed into law legislation banning benefits for domestic partners, passed by our degenerate House and Senate.

When this surfaced earlier this year, I wrote my representatives and the governor urging him to veto this bill.  It’s a transparent attempt to legislate an antiquated sense of morality that discriminates against one group of people: gays.  The bill was primarily aimed at ending domestic partner benefits for gay people in state government and at public universites, based on the 2004 one man-one woman marriage amendment.  The good thing is it’s not going to affect those people; however, it will still affect municipal and school employees, both gay and straight.

This is regressive.  This is backwards-looking.  This does not move us forward.  It is also relatively meaningless in terms of “saving money”.  It turns out only 138 public employees take advantage of this, .00418 % of the state’s 33,000 eligible public employees.   Several generations from now—if we don’t end up self-immolating as a species before then—your descendants are going to look back on these fights as we do on segregation and the civil rights era.  (With the exception of you knuckle-draggers.  Again, how do you get Internet into that trailer of yours?  And you can read?  Why are you here?)

States rights!  First: hello again, bigot!  You might say that I should move somewhere else where gay marriage is supported, but I don’t want to.  I’m not interested in running away from institutional bigotry, because its victims need a face in order to stop it.  And it needs to stop.  And I’ve lived here so long that I’ve picked up the accent and politeness that makes other regions want to pat me on the head, so it’s home, and I’m tired of people insulting me in my own home.  So who am I?

  • I’m someone who’s chosen to live here for the last 18 years of my life.
  • I’m someone who helped build one of few internationally succesful internetworking and security companies based in the midwest, creating high-paying, fantastic jobs in a region known for anything but.
  • I helped build and sustain that company during the darkest days of Michigan’s economy.  Lemons, lemonade.
  • I’m smart.
  • I’m motivated.
  • I pay my taxes.
  • I’m gay.

For those of you who voted for Snyder, thinking that he’s an independent and a moderate: think again.  He’s not.  Or if he is, he just pandered to the people in our state who aren’t doing anything to move it forward.  If he was a good businessman, he’d recognize the value in keeping domestic partner benefits and take a stand.  My company does.  So think about that the next time you go to the ballot box.  Or the next time someone hands you a “Recall Rick Snyder” campaign peition to sign.

If you live in Ann Arbor or surrounding area in Washtenaw county, you should check to see if the retrograde Mark Ouimet is your state representative, because he voted to pass this legislation.  Yes, even you, living in the diverse northeast or Ann Arbor Hills.  You have a hick representing you.  Please check out his record, and let him know how you feel.

It turns out 62% of Michiganders support some form of recognition of same-sex couples.  If this sometimes-backwards state has gotten to this point, I see this as a galvanizing call for the federal recognition of same-sex marriage or unions.  Once we deregulate marriage at the federal level, legislation like this will be superfluous and we can get back to doing useful things, like rebuilding our economy.

So tonight I’m gonna take time out
To wipe that smile off your face
You’re a side effect—like an aftertaste
So face the facts, I do the job well
And hell, why not—I got a lot
So tell me…
What you’re saying:
I’m not playing?
Somebody’s gotta go and I’m staying, Rick!
Get back, exactly, you got me right:
Get up, get with it or get outta my sight!
Because I’m hot and sizzling, put you in the mood…
Someone like you puts me off my food…

Facebook: All About You

You may have heard that Facebook records every little thing you’ve done since you started using it.  You probably don’t remember exactly what that might be, either.  For a close approximation of everything—meaning it doesn’t inlcude things you’ve deleted, or clicks recorded—you can at least download an archive of information still available on Facebook and see what exactly what’s available for others to view.

  1. Click on the triangle pointing down next to the Home link on the upper-right side of the page and then click on Account Settings:
  2. The Account Settings page will feature a link at the bottom that allows you to download a copy of your “Facebook data”:
  3. You’ll be taken to a page that will allow you to download your data.  If you haven’t visited this page before, it will tell you to click a button to create the archive.  You can safely leave this page and come back to it later, and Facebook will also send you an email with a link to the page once the archive is created.  Once the archive is available, you’ll be presented with the following screen.  Enter your password and press Continue:
  4. Once you’ve entered your password, you’ll be presented with a Download button that you can click to begin the download:
  5. The downloaded file is zipped, so unzip it with your favorite utility:
  6. It will unzip the files into a directory.  You can view the files using a web browser by clicking on the index.html file:
  7.  The default view is your profile page, and there are clickable links on the side that will allow you to view a variety of things including: all visible posts on your Wall; all visible photos, videos; a list of your friends; every note you’ve ever written; any upcoming events on your calendar; and every message thread since you started using Facebook.  Let’s see what the first thing I wrote on Facebook was by clicking on the Wall link:
  8. Ah, yes, I started using Facebook back when you wrote every status message in the third-person because you were required to use the word “is”:

    Heidi and Rich, my Facebook buds during earlier, more innocent times. Writing about the status of the cat box is far less novel these days.

Vs. Peanut Butter Cups—Tasty, Tasty Peanut Butter Cups

I like to keep healthy and fit.  Part of that is working out four mornings a week and playing some sports on the side; the other?  Diet, of course.  A couple of years ago I transformed myself physically (6’2″ and 140lbs. to 6’3″ and 200lbs.) through a combination of diet and exercise.  I’ve never been healthier.

After the bulk (so to speak) of it, I stopped paying as close attention to my diet.  For two years I avoided candy, soda, carbs, cheese, dairy, etc.  The power a donut had over me was overwhelming.  And one day, I decided life was too short, and so I ate it.

I’ve decided recently to get back to a more regimented diet.  On one hand, it can be boring, but on the other, it allows me to focus on other parts of my life since there’s a simplicity and stability to what I’m eating.  And the upside is being even leaner.

The catch is that now,  I’m used to being able to “eat whatever I want to”, mostly because of extreme metabolic activity—I heat up a room in more than one way, babe—I burn it right off.  And so, if I want that mid-afternoon candy snack, no worries.  But I’d like to be a little leaner, and as I’ve been cutting things out of my diet, those snacks seem to be screaming at me.

Do you hear it crying? It is crying for freedom. FREEDOM.

The amazing part is I’m not actually hungry.  I’m just savoring what it will be like to have those luscious gobs of fat and sugar briefly overwhelming my senses.  In college, peanut butter cups were one of my basic food groups, but I always bought the king size: two just weren’t enough.  After four I’d feel a bit gross, but that would dissipate in an hour.  Reese’s figured this out and now makes them with 3 cups to a package, which is just a micron above the plateau of gross… you can eat that, go on.  It’ll be all right.

And I’m not. Even. Hungry.  I have sympathy for those who struggle with their weight.  If the food is calling my name, I can only imagine what it’s like to be starting from a point even further up on the scale.

I’ll Follow You Until You Love Me, Maser-Maser-Maserati

I remember hearing the word “Maserati” when I was a kid, unaware that it referred to a car marque.  I just liked the way it sounded and how it flowed over my tongue, quickly and with a staccato punch at the end.  When I got a little older and realized it referred to a car, the sound of its name seemed almost perfectly synesthetic.

Oh, yes, now we're styling!

Of course, Maseratis numbered few when I was growing up.  A great aunt of mine had a Biturbo Spyder in the late 80s, a de rigueur blocky and angular cherry red convertible. The best part about it was that she let her granddaughter—my cousin—drive it.  So we’d steal away during family get togethers… la-da-di-la-di-da, listening to Crystal Waters sing about the gypsy woman, we thought we were hot.

We had no idea.

You're not fooling anyone, nope.

At the time, Maserati was owned by DeTomaso, and one of the Spyder’s contemporary cars was the unfortunate Chrysler TC by Maserati, a rebadged Chrysler LeBaron.  I suppose we should give them a break because the 80s were the Golden Age of Badge Engineering, but still, BAD IDEA.  It makes one wonder what was going through the heads at Daimler-Benz when they were acquiring Chrysler. Shortly after the TC, and plagued with the perception of expensive, low quality cars, Maserati left the US market in 1991.

By 2005, Maserati had changed hands a number of times and found themselves as part of Alfa Romeo underneath Fiat.  Just prior to that in 2004 they released the very sexy 5th generation Quattroporte, which was available for purchase in the US because Maserati had returned to the market in 2002.  Quattroporte means “four doors”, and simply put, the car is incredibly sexy and elegant.  But at a cost of over $130,000, it’s not exactly within most people’s budgets.  I lust for it from afar.

The very sexy Maserati Quattroporte.

In 2009, Fiat took a 30% ownership stake in Chrysler. At the time I remember being grateful, because it appeared that the Big 3 were going to go out of business, which would be really painful to the local economy.  If Fiat hadn’t come through, the US government was not going to bail Chrysler out, and the company would close.  I haven’t ever owned an American car, but at the same time, I didn’t want to see them go out of business.  (Maybe I’ll reconcile that for you later, although now that the American auto companies are starting to make appealing products, I might not have to explain myself.)   Bonus: Fiat and Alfa Romeo might also bring their cars back to the US!  Still I wondered why Fiat made the decision, and while I’m sure it’ll be the topic of some book someday, I think I know why: the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

I'll save you!

This isn’t the first time the Grand Cherokee has done this, either.  For those of you who aren’t from Michigan, or aren’t car nuts, you may not remember that there used to be another car company up until the late 1980s: American Motors.  American, who brought us the cult-classic Gremlin, found itself struggling in the market due to poor reception of vehicles and a mismanaged alliance with French automaker Renault.

In 1987, Renault divested themselves of American to Chrysler, which was keen to get its hands on the forthcoming Grand Cherokee.   I’m not sure if Daimler-Benz was keen to get their hands on it as well, but there are two things to consider:

  1. What else would Daimler-Benz get out of the deal?
  2. The latest M-class Mercedes (2012) shares its platform with the Grand Cherokee.

That Grand Cherokee must be something else behind closed doors.  But we were talking about Maserati, right?  How does any of that relate?  Behold the Kubang, the first joint venture between Chrysler and Maserati since the ill-fated TC:

Il Grande Cherokee

Skip to about 2 minutes to avoid most of the badly-chosen, cloying power-pop backing track:

So now we’ve come full circle.  This Maserati will be built in Detroit on the same platform as the Jeep Grand Cherokee.  It’ll feature two engines: a gas 4.7l v8 making 450HP and a 3.0l turbo-diesel making around 300HP.  A Maserati SUV seems like a bit of an oxymoron, yes?  I used to think SUVs were a terrible thing, and SUVs from traditionally exotic sports marques were blasphemous.  After getting my own SUV due to last winter’s miserable driving weather, I’ve changed my mind.  However, this isn’t the first time Maserati considered building an SUV.  Kubang originally debuted as a concept car back in 2003:

2003 Kubang Concept Front

2011 Production Kubang Front

2003 Kubang Concept Rear

2011 Production Kubang Rear

Depending on the price, my dream of a diesel-powered, Detroit-built Maserati may just end up in my garage in a couple of years. Here’s to hoping.

In a Forest Pitch Dark / Glowed the Tiniest Spark

Back to our regularly scheduled posts on Iceland!  I’d planned to do daily updates from Iceland, but our internet connection became spotty, and as you might imagine, I’d rather have no internet than internet that craps out on you at exactly the wrong moment.

So, on with the show.

Click here to skip to Björk.

Wednesday was a slow day to start.  I slithered forth around 11a, with everyone looking at me like I was slightly crazy.  The goal for the day was to obtain our tickets to Iceland Airwaves, and my ticket to see Björk in concert.

Before I get to that, I wanted to mention that our fancy night out the night prior came to around 91,000 kronur, which is about $760.  For eight people including cocktails, a full course, dessert and a few bottles of wine, not bad at all!

We found our wristbands for the festival at the Plaza Hotel, and then set out to find my ticket.  There was a bit of confusion over where to go; an initial email had said one thing, another said to go to the music store Smekkleysa, which made sense, since Björk was a partner there.  It turned out my ticket was waiting for me at the venue, which was pretty much where we started our trek 20 minutes earlier.  We decided to get a tasty lunch instead at Sólon, and then head to the Harpa, where Björk would be performing.  I had lasagna bolognese, a malbec from Chile and another excellent latte.  Everyone at the table shared their pretty (and tasty) pieces of cake with me.

The music festival was an afterthought for me—I was going to see Iceland!—and even once I had my ticket for that, Bjork was another afterthought.  I wasn’t a fan of the Sugarcubes during their heyday (I have all their albums now), and I’m not quite sure how I stumbled across her in the first place.  After my initial interest in college, I’d lost it after she finished promoting the album “Homogenic”.  She was moving more towards an ambient sound, largely based on what she thought was natural, and it kind of bored me. When a friend purchased tickets to see her at Airwaves, I got one myself, mostly writing it off and looking forward to just spending time with my friends.

I was mistaken.

After lunch, we headed to the Harpa, which is a new music hall with a honeycombed glass facade inspired by basalt lava formations.  The Harpa has several floors with a variety of music halls in it, the biggest one being able to hold about 700 people.  We  arrived around 4:30, picked up my ticket and then started poking around.  When Tia arrived around 5, Stephanie and I headed upstairs to meet her on the top floor.  I thought this was a little odd, because the front desk told us Björk was going to be on the second floor, but Tia is adventurous, so I trust her to find excitement, however unintentionally.

Tia was seated among a group of well-dressed people who gave Steph and I funny looks as we went to sit down next to her.  Our seats had names on them (call me “Nikita”), and when we queried about it, we were curtly dismissed by a blonde wraith who sailed past us.  We assumed there would be some pre-show for Björk, and that it would be odd, so this must be it!

An electric violinist started playing while a black-and-white film projected onto a wall next to him of a fit, furry viking-looking guy swimming nude to a thunderous soundtrack.   Is it art?  Not sure, but not bad.  And then…

THE LIGHTS WENT ON

Space Shepherd

… and we suddenly realized we were at a fashion show, and seated in the front row of the catwalk.  I was dressed DOWN, so I tried to shrink behind Steph a bit as the cameras started clicking after the models coming down the runway.

It was the Spring/Summer 2012 menswear line “Cast by Shadows” by Sruli Recht.  The clothes were in the style of rustic space cult leader: minimalist and austere, but structured.  I kept noticing the footwear, which were like slippers that had big useful parts cut out of them (seems fairly impractical for Iceland), and that the models didn’t seem to be wearing any underwear.  However, I’m pretty sure the only reason I was sweating was due to the klieg lights.  Pretty sure.

After it finished, the mini-viking who had been sitting next to us at the start turned out to be Sruli Recht himself—I was tempted to talk to him about it, but remembered we had bigger fish to fry.  We headed down to find Björk.

Björk’s show didn’t start until 8, but we got in line on the stairs leading to the level the auditorium was on around 5:30p.  We were in the first ten or so people.  Of course, nobody knew which direction the line was supposed to go—we’re all foreigners here, and the Icelandic natives don’t get worked up about standing in line—and so there were people who got behind us (GOOD), and people who instead pooled on the landing above (BAD!), firmly pressing our big red buttons associated with line-cutting.  A couple hours later, they started moving us in, and we found ourselves about to enter shortly after 7pm.

The concert hall was tiny!  Björk’s set, situated in the center of the room, took up most of the space.  There were 20 or so rows of tiered seating on the left with 15 seats in each row, and then standing room everywhere else.  We were no more than 20 feet from the stage, which had a circle of monitors crowning it showing graphics from her latest album, “Biophilia”.  Several strange instruments were arrayed before us: a gamaleste, which is a celeste with bronze tone bars inspired by gamelan music and a gravity harp which you can see in a video below.

She really didn’t seem like a crazed chihuahua / Bride-of-Ronald-McDonald in person; as they say, the video doesn’t do the experience justice.  The gravity harp was in a more compact configuration at our show, but it was just as hauntingly effective.  While being used, the interface to control it was displayed on the monitors overhead, small planets circling a sun.  When the sun changed from one color to the next, the planets that shared the same color dictated the melody on the instrument.

I wish I had pictures from the show, but they were inspecting bags and all cameras were sent off to be checked.  Unfortunately, the couple photos I snagged with my phone were lost in the great iOS5 upgrade of 2011, though Steph managed to get one.

The show was amazing!  The lights went down, and 20 young women approached the stage wearing what appeared to be a cross between a burlap sack and  disco jumpsuits.  Shortly after, a tiny figure wearing one of Macy Gray’s castoff wigs skipped towards the stage in giant clog shoes and a voice out of National Geographic began to intone the connections between humans, music and nature.   As a large cylindrical cage began to descend over our heads, graphics began to come across the screens in front of us.

Björk and her greek chorus began to sing nearly a capella about craving miracles, then paused.  The cage overhead came to life: she was using a TESLA COIL as bass for the first song, Thunderbolt.  It was powerfully effective.

Skip to about :49 seconds to see and hear the effect of the tesla coil.

Björk’s movements are very childlike and full of energy, and suited to her small stature.  I’d say she must be inspired by her young daughter, but really, I just don’t think Björk ever lost her sense of being a child.  Between each song she simply thanked the audience with a “Takk fyrir“, and waited as the documentary narrator explained the next part of our journey.

After having toured around the countryside, listening to her music in her hometown provided new insight.  Björk sang us “Isobel“, one of two songs that ran through my head most of the time I was in Iceland.  For instance, this snippet of the song took on an entirely new dimension as we drove for hours, the only souls around:

in a forest pitch-dark
glowed the tiniest spark
it burst into flame
like me : like me

my name isobel : married to myself
my love isobel : living by herself

when she does it she means to
moth delivers her message
unexplained on your collar
crawling in silence
a simple excuse

na na na na na

I was hoping she’d sing “Jóga“, the closest thing you can get to Iceland without actually going.  Do yourself a favor and watch this in a room with the volume up and the lights down, and experience the chills the Icelandic people felt for a thousand years as they tended to and trekked across their emotional and haunting landscape:

She sang “One Day” from her first solo album, “Debut”, something I listened to countless times.  For the first time, the song made complete sense to me, and I felt like I was being addressed directly by a wisdom that surrounds us all, despite being very difficult to hear at times.

one day : it will happen
one day : it will all come true
one day : when you’re ready
one day : when you’re up to it

the atmosphere will get lighter
and two suns ready to shine just for you
i can feel it!

Her percussionist amazed us with his abilities to draw unexpected sounds from inexplicable instruments, at one point dubstepping solo as though he were a beatbox from the 1980s.  She closed our show with the song “Declare Independence” from the album “Volta”.  The song takes on a whole new meaning after being in post-economic fallout Iceland.  I find it interesting that Björk talks about declaring indepedence—at one point she shouts “protect your language!”—but her success largely stems from singing in English to a non-Icelandic audience, and I wonder how she reconciles that.  The use of English among the Icelandic people is eminently practical, but it must be conflicting to depend on it when singing about being independent.

Björk rocked the house.  If you love music, specifically the the art of making music and the philosophy of instrumentation, you must see this show if it comes your way!

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