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Petri Wessman's weblog

Minireview: Silence of the Grave, by Arnaldur Indriðason

Icelandic murder mysteries aren’t exactly the most common thing out there, but Silence of the Grave (originally Grafarþögn) is still exactly that. It’s a somewhat somber affair. An old shallow grave is discovered near Reykjavík at a building worksite, and Detective Inspector Erlendur Svinsson is summoned to the site to figure things out. The body is obviously old, possibly from around the WW2 era… but nobody knows who it is, or even if it’s male or female. Civil book-keeping was in a somewhat chaotic state during the war years and the U.S. army base had brought lots of foreigners to the island, so there are no easy clues available.

The tale is told in two layers. One is the modern-day one, where Erlendur struggles with both the case and his troubled personal life – his ex-wife hates him, and his daughter is hovering near death after a dangerous miscarriage (and possible drug abuse). The other layer is an older one, and is a dark tale of domestic abuse. The two tales converge towards the end, and things start to make sense.

It’s not a happy story, but it is quite interesting; if for nothing else, as a view into Icelandic life both during modern times and during WW2. The writing felt a bit choppy to me, but I have no idea if that was due to the translation or the original text. It was ok and quite readable, though.

As an amusing aside, this book actually won the British Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger award for best crime novel of the year in 2005. The next year, that award was renamed and also respecified so as to exclude books not originally written in English.

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...and back

Back in drizzly Finland. Actually, back almost a week ago.

Trip went well, and even though it was a very “active vacation” it left me feeling relaxed and I feel I’ve been away for a long time (even though it’s only been a month). We visited Iceland, then flew over to California & Burning Man. Janka provides some trip recap in her blog, so I won’t repeat (much) of that here. I took a ton of photos – nearly 2000 – but then again more than half of those were 3-picture HDR composites, and then after the obvious failures are weeded out… well, the number of “reasonable” shots left is a lot smaller. Still, took lots of pics. The batch from Iceland is now available (slideshow), I’ll add the rest later once I get them processed.

Since I don’t have pics available yet I also won’t talk about the U.S. or Burning Man here, leaving that for later.

So, Iceland. I found the country quite amazing. Sure, it was expensive, and sure, it’s small and insular – but somehow, that insularity wasn’t as annoying as it can sometimes be in Finland. Maybe it’s just the fact that I was only on a short visit and didn’t see the reality of things, or maybe it’s also other things: I found the Icelandic elitist megalomania quite refreshing (compared to the Finnish traditional cultural inferiority complex), and the fiercely independent ethos of the people was also very appealing. Sure, Finland is supposed to also have some degree of that, but I think that died out at some point in history and was replaced by a general “it’s not my fault, I’m a victim of society!” outlook. Having said that, there do seem to be a lot of common points between Finland and Iceland: tiny, insular societies that speak an incomprehensible language, endless long dark winter months, a love of (lots of) alcohol, lots of beautiful unpolluted nature.

…but as always, it’s the differences that charm you. I’m a sucker for harsh landscapes, and the Icelandic volcanic wasteland was just too cool for words at times; especially so during our hike of the Laugavegur 55km mountain trail. Some of the scenery up there was just breathtaking. Culturally, I mentioned the elitism… I guess it’s because according to the Icelanders, the Vikings did pretty much everything first, better and with more style than anyone else – and naturally enough, Icelanders are direct descendants of said Vikings. Somehow, all the rape and pillage involved gets a lot less press over there… In any case, while the place felt very insular, it didn’t feel annoyingly so; in fact, it felt quite charming to me. Oh, I’m sure the “everyone knows everyone else” thing gets old fast if you live there, but that’s just how it goes.

The music scene in Iceland is amazing, and the same applies to the arts scene in general… for some reason, it seems that arts are very much respected there culturally and pretty much half the population dabbles into some artistic pursuit. You could explain it away with “well, they have to do something during those long winter months”… but then again, why do Finns use those same months to plan suicide (or axe murder) and drown their depression with Koskenkorva?

Yes, I kid. Finns get artistic too, and I’m sure Iceland has its share of suicides, alcohol and depression. But still, you have to admire the amazing artistic scene in Iceland, especially when you compare to the population count (about the size of your average larger metropolis). To me, the music was (and is) especially impressive.

About that music… I have to mention the record store 12 Tónar. At the time we visited I wasn’t aware that it’s also a record label, and “home” of many known Icelandic musicians. We just saw an advertisement about “lots of Icelandic music!” while strolling around and decided to drop in. Glad we did. Since I didn’t know much about current local bands, I walked up to the guy behind the counter and asked for some recommendations, saying I was familiar with Björk & Sigur Rós and had a fairly eclectic taste in music. Now, that sort of approach generally tends to work in many non-chain stores, but here I got especially nice treatment. The guy gathered a pile of 8-9 CDs and said “start with those”, then sat me down at one of the many eclectic CD-players scattered around. He also brought me a cup of (free) espresso. That’s what I call service. In general, the place was what a good record store should be like (but all too seldom is): knowledgeable & friendly staff, comfy surroundings, and freedom to listen to a lot of stuf in peace. I ended up buying two records: “Það kólnar í kvöld…” by Rökkurró (excellent alt-folk-pop sung in Icelandic) and “Clangour” by Sin Fang Bous (weird but fun music, sung in English). Janka picked up an album of Viking poetry set to an ambient music soundtrack.

So… yes, I liked Iceland a lot. The food was great (though expensive), the atmosphere was nice, and the scenery awesome. I also really liked the language, it’s actually the first Scandinavian language I have any larger interest in learning – which is inconvenient, since it’s also arguably the most generally useless of said languages. Whatever, it’s quite pretty (in a weird fashion), and while it reads a small bit like Swedish etc, the pronounciation is almost totally alien.

I probably want to visit again, sometime down the road. Armed with a large travel budget, since the place was very expensive – and I say this as someone from Helsinki, one of the more expensive cities in the world.

After 1.5 weeks in Iceland, we hopped aboard a plane again and headed off towards the land of the free(ish) and home of the paranoid. More about that later.

Leaving normal, once again

Now I’m leaving normal and I’m heading for who knows where

–Cowboy Junkies, “Leaving Normal”

More or less dropping off the grid now. Flight leaves in… all too few hours, I should already be trying to grab a few hours of sleep. Maybe I will.

Tomorrow Iceland, then in a few weeks Black Rock City. I can already smell the playa dust.

P.S. The Ropecon VTES tournament report is now up. Enjoy.

Published on by Orava, tags , , , , , ,

Scorchio!

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Even though it’s hard to believe it now, with rain drizziling down from a leaden sky, last weekend was “Scorchio!”-tastic around the Turku-Hanko seaside (Kasnäs, to be more exact). Even though there’s a lot of trip prep stuff to do, we decided to take the weekend off and go sailing for a few days on a friend’s boat (well, boat belonging to a friend’s parents, to be more exact). We drove down there Friday after work, arriving at the marina a bit after 9pm, after which we settled down for a quick onboard dinner and some drinks. The marina had wifi connectivity, which was a new feature for me even though I’m told it’s quite common nowadays. Somehow, sitting in a sailboat and browsing the web on a netbook was a bit strange. I got over it.

The next two days were hot. Unfortunately they were also a bit on the overly calm side, so we just motored around on Saturday. Sunday the wind had picked up a small bit so we unfurled sails and did some actual sailing. Nothin fancy, but it’s always more pleasant to move on windpower instead of marine diesel… at least when the weather is nice.

Good short trip, and it helped reduce pre-vacation stress levels a bit. Now we’re approaching the point where we actually have to start packing soon; so far we’ve just made checklists of stuff to bring and have done some shopping along the same lines. I got a new camera bag (well, two actually), a new carbon fiber tripod, a small Gorillapod, and some other stuff. Photowise I should be all set now, and I also tested the workflow from CF card to card reader to netbook (Lightroom) to home workstation (Lightroom with some actual processing power). Seemed to work fine. Also cleaned the camera sensor (long overdue and cause for angst on previous Lapland trip) and updated the camera firmware to latest.

It’s always the same thing before a long trip abroad. The few weeks before are hectic; you try to tie up loose ends at work, you try to think of all you’ll need, you try to finish off the most critical parts of your “todo” list. Once you actually get on the plane things lighten up, before that it’s always a bit of a hassle. All this is magified a bit, since we need to do some “extreme packing”: first we go hiking in Iceland, in an area in which there is a real possibility of snow even at this time of year. Then we go to the Nevada desert and Burning Man, where temperatures around +40C are quite possible. Oh, and everything needs to both fit in the airplane loggage allowance and be as portable as possible. We have some experience at this already so it’s not as bad as it could be… but it still needs quite a bit of planning. This will also be the first actual field test for our new high-tech Hilleberg Nallo 3 GT tent, both in Iceland and at Burning Man. If our trusty Terra Nova Ultra Quasar has managed Burning Man, the Hilleberg should too. But we’ll see.

Summer scheduling

Looks like I need to start scheduling my summer right about now, a lot of things need decisions round this time. For example, I just heard that The National are coming to Ankkarock… and of course Ropecon is on the same weekend. Gah. I really want to see The National, they were one of the best “new finds” of last year for me. Good news is that they are performing on Sunday. I’ll probably be able to combo the con Sunday with a rock festival. Somehow. It might involve beer.

In addition, a friend’s paintball weekend thingy lands on top of Provinssirock. Probably choosing the paintball there… sure, it would be nice to see Placebo (again) and Nick Cave, but now that (another) friend no longer lives nearby that would be a pretty expensive trip – I think I’ll opt for the cheaper “run in the woods and get shot” option. Oh, and of course there’s a KMFDM club gig on that same weekend. Already have tickets for that, but not yet sure how I’ll combo everything.

Oh, and we’re planning of maybe visiting Iceland in August, and continuing from there to Burning Man (once again!). Still in the planning stages, but that one will eat up both our vacation time and a chunk of cash. Why Iceland? Because we can. And because it should be less horribly expensive now, due to their financial crash. Sucks for them, good for us.

Having fun takes work, I tell you.

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