June 30, 2015

June 30, 2015

Iceland, Day 2: Gullfoss, Geysir, and Geothermal Shenanigans

The second day of our trip dawned bright and early, in that Iceland gets about 21 hours of sun a day in June. Geographical phenomenon aside, we were about to embark on a daylong tour of the so-called Golden Circle, a troika of Iceland’s most famous sights.

We started, for some reason, by stopping at Nesjavellir Geothermal field to take pictures of the steaming ground. Since this was my first encounter with geothermal activity, I was down with it. As the week progressed, I became less so. “The ground is steaming?” *snaps picture* “Let’s keep moving.”


First official stop: Þingvellir, site of the world’s first Parliament in 930. (Icelandic note: That letter that looks like a capital P is pronounced “th.” So Þingvellir is “Thingvellir.”) That Parliament was called the Alþingi (Althing), and is the source of the word “thing.” BOOM. KNOWLEDGE BOMB.


As if that weren’t enough, Þingvellir is also where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. The area’s quite seismically active as a result, and those ponds in the picture above have all formed in the millennium since 930.

“In this corner…North America…and in this corner…Eurasia…ARE YOU READY TO RUMBLE?!

In the parking lot at Þingvellir, we were reminded that 54% of Icelanders believe in elves:

During one tour, our guide told us all about how elves are in the Bible. Not the KJV, obviously.

Second stop: Gullfoss, one of Iceland’s many notable waterfalls.

On a sunny day, there are delightful rainbows. Google it.

For quite some time, the Powers That Be wanted to turn Gullfoss into a power plant. They were prevented from doing so largely by the efforts of Sigríður Tómasdóttir, known as Iceland’s first environmentalist. She’s memorialized at Gullfoss.

Don’t mess with Siggy. Also, probably don’t call her Siggy.

Third stop: Geysir, a geyser whose name is in fact the derivation of the English word “geyser.” BOOM. SECOND KNOWLEDGE BOMB.

Before we were let off the bus, our guide made sure to tell us not to touch the water, stand downwind of the geysers, etc. The whole site was covered in caution signs, too.

Too bad I only speak Fahrenheit, baby.

The geyser erupted every 5 minutes or so, so I was able to see it both close up and from afar. You really needed both perspectives, since the thing’s so huge. (That’s what she said.)

Note TheBoy at far left.

After a quick visit to Skálholt Church, one of Iceland's sees from 1056 until 1785, we made our final stop: Hellisheiði Geothermal Power Station, third largest in the world. Our tour guide was from Florida, so insert gripes about foreigners coming into our country and taking our jobs.

That Florida-to-Iceland move has to entail some climate whiplash.

The plant’s interior and exterior were filled with heavy machinery, all of which is probably interesting to people who like heavy machinery.



I myself at this point was ready for dinner, because it was to be the spotlight meal of the trip: the seven course Icelandic Feast at Sushi Samba.

Course 1: Brennivín Shot. According to Wikipedia, brennevin is schnapps made from fermented grain or potato mash and flavored with caraway. Tasted like licorice.


Course 2: Smoked Puffin and Minke Whale


Course 3: Arctic Charr. Very similar to salmon.


Course 4: Lobster Cigar. Think spring roll.


Course 5: Reindeer Slider.


Course 6: Lamb Chop. At this point, I was in such a food zone that I almost forgot to take a picture.


Course 7: Skyr Panna Cotta and Raspberry Sorbet. Ditto on forgetting to take a decent picture.


Stick a fork in me; I was done.

In Day 3: I eat a glacier, go behind a waterfall, and find my Icelandic soulmate.

June 25, 2015

June 25, 2015

Iceland, Day 1: Arrival and Nauseam

Since we never took a honeymoon, our first anniversary was approaching, and we hadn’t stamped our passports since auld lang 2013, TheBoy and I decided to sample the best Iceland had to offer during a week in June. Spoiler alert: Lots of sheep roaming the fields, lots of lamb stew. Circle of life.

We took Icelandair, both because it flies direct from Dulles and because the best flight I ever had was Korean Air to Korea and I’ve been trying to recapture that glory for years. While Icelandair wasn’t nearly up to Korean standards (what COULD be?), they do name their planes.

No Ragnarok?

So there’s that.

Due to the curvature of the earth or some such, we left DC at 9 PM and arrived at Reykjavik at 6 AM despite an actual flight time of 6 hours. Mmkay. Our general post-flight grogginess was smacked into submission by the weather, described by our flight attendant as “Icelandic summer drizzle.”

Dude, where’s my sun?

Thankfully, we realized as we went through customs, exchanged money, and left the airport that everyone in Iceland speaks English and takes credit cards. Your humble blogger, who STILL has Jordanian dinar sitting in a desk drawer, was immensely relieved.

Those without credit can also pay with this colorful moolah.

We stayed in a short-term apartment rental. More guesthouse than Airbnb—there was a receptionist and maid service every other day. (Iceland’s major industry is tourism, and Reykjavik is jam-packed with lodgings of all sizes.) We dropped our stuff and headed out for some traditional Icelandic grub. TheBoy at regular human food, but I had “Icelandic Plate I,” which included multiple kinds of fish and sheepshead jelly. SHEEPSHEAD JELLY, guys.

Q: One of these things is not like the others, in that it’s edible. A: Mashed turnip, bottom right.

During the entire meal, I kept saying, “This is horrible. This is fantastic.” It was exactly what I wanted in that it was simultaneously disgusting and authentic. I didn’t throw up, but I was probably 85% there. Dig. Plus, the restaurant was across the street from Hallgrímskirkja, the largest church in Iceland.

Can’t beat that view, other than with sunshine.

After eating/tolerating our lunch, met up with a walking tour of the city, just to orient ourselves and get a local’s perspective. Our guide, Hlolli,* showed us the Prime Minister’s residence…


…the Parliament…


…and told us all about the elves. In his words, “We call them ‘Hidden People,’ but I will call them elves for simplicity.” 54% of Icelanders believe in elves, and when you consider them spectrum of supernatural beliefs, it could be worse.

We had been up for something like 36 hours straight at that point, so we grabbed some food from a local supermarket—in which the refrigerated section was a refrigerated room—watched a little German QVC on cable, and called it a day.

In Day 2: The Golden Circle. Not about peeing, ya perv.

*Downside of having a name like "Hlolli": American tourists can't pronounce it. Upside: You get hlolli@gmail.com.

June 22, 2015

June 22, 2015

Domo Arigat

A number—by which I mean two—of my entertainment periodicals recommended upcoming USA network series Mr. Robot. Since an ad-free version of the first episode is currently online legally and for free, TheBoy and I decided to check it out. The gist, in a nutshell: The slightly bug-eyed guy who played Ahkmenrah in the Night at the Museum movies is Elliot. Elliot works for a cybersecurity firm keeping corporate databases safe, including that of Apple/Monsanto/GE/Cargill stand-in E Corp (a.k.a. Evil Corp). He’s got a lot of anxiety, a leetle drug problem, and a surprising number of lady acquaintances (best friend, therapist, drug dealer).

However, as so many hackers of our day and age are, Elliot is conflicted. Why should corporations have all the power? Who stands at the intersection of technology, privacy, and free markets? Who watches the Watchmen? And so on. So while Elliot starts out using his hacking wizardry to keep tabs on those he’s interested in*, he’s eventually tempted to use it for evil. *cue maniacal laughter*

The black hats (OR ARE THEY?) are led by a Christian Slater-esque vagranty typed played by Christian Slater. Your mileage will vary, but I liked him. Other than his, y’know, raging against the machine and such.

I’m curious to see where this thing goes; the cinematography reminds me very much of the Thomas Anderson parts of The Matrix; all muted browns and greens. My technical advisor/husband informs me that the tech is pretty spot-on, if necessarily time-compressed for dramatic purposes. I’ll say that it sounded REALLY good to me, but I am just a business major.

In short, this is the show I was hoping Scorpion would be. Stay tuned.

*Generally, I would use the phrase “those he cares about.” But with on-the-spectrum characters such as these, I don’t want to infer emotion where it doesn’t exist. Can Elliot care about anyone? TBD. For now, I’ll stick with “interest.”

June 4, 2015

June 4, 2015

In My Opinion: Pitch Perfect 2

Lemme say up front that I liked this movie. The review might not reflect that, but you know I would rather pick at the negatives. It’s my Korean genes.

Despite being a Gleek from day one*, I came late—enthusiastically, but late—to the Pitch Perfect party. As I mentioned in my review of the first movie, the three things that I liked best were Fat Amy, the songs, and the college setting.

I must reluctantly state that PP2 gave me too much of one and not enough of the other two, despite the five or so plotlines running through this film. Let’s start with that—there’s a lot of story, including:

1. The Bellas trying to redeem themselves by winning Internationals.
2. A new member of the Bellas trying to break out of her Legacy label.
3. Said Bella having a little fling with Benji
4. Fat Amy continuing a not-so-little fling with Bumper
5. Beca’s attempts to become a bona fide music producer

I once heard that there are only three plots in film**: fish-out-of-water, boy meets girl, and the Jesus story. IMO, PP was classic fish-out-of-water (Beca joins and then transforms the Bellas) with a bit of boy meets girl thrown in. But I’ll be darned if we don’t have one of two versions of all three plots in PP2 and not nearly enough singing/performing. There’s a version of a riff-off (featuring possibly the most random Green Bay Packers reference ever), and some good competition sets, but too many of the Bellas’ songs were throwaways to demonstrate how they’d lost their way. I found myself cheering for Das Sound Machine because those Germans were am punkt (on point).

As with PP, Fat Amy and Lilly seemed to exist mostly to throw out comic non sequitirs. PP2 added a third such character, Flo. Don’t get me wrong—I laughed. Hard. But we were dangerously close to “too much of a good thing” territory. I would rather have had more fish out of water. Or songs featuring drinkware. Or information on what happened with the Jesse/Beca ‘ship. But in the words of one of the great modern philosophers, you can’t always get what you want.

(I hope the next one involves DSM *and* robots.)

* May 19, 2009!
** Serious cinephiles, CALM DOWN.

June 3, 2015

June 3, 2015

Of Game Show Marathons and World Quizzing Championships

The time has come, the blogger said, to talk of other things: of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings of two of the highlights of my quizzing year.

First, it’s once again time for the 24-Hour Game Show Marathon. Friends-of-blog Cory, Bob, and Chris are running the shindig, and other quiz world celebrities are scheduled to appear. Most importantly, it’s all for a good cause: this year, Child’s Play. So even if you can’t tune in on Saturday, please go here and donate what you can. But, really, you’ll want to tune in on Saturday because as much as I love these guys, they’re insane. Insanity + no sleep + game shows x charity = win. Unearth your heart and do it.

Also on Saturday—along with D-Day and the Belmont Stakes because time is a flat circle—this year’s World Quizzing Championships. Check the website for your nearest venue (I'll be in Severna Park, Maryland) and sample questions. If you decide to go, take some pens and a lot of patience. This is the hardest, least-satisfying test I take all year, and you know how much I love tests. I myself am hoping to break the top 850 this year, but WHO KNOWS.

Add in the Tonys on Sunday, and it’s a big weekend all around. Gird your loins. Sharpen your brainpan. Book your Uber.

May 19, 2015

May 19, 2015

On the Road

One of McSweeney’s recurring features is called Interviews with People Who Have Unusual or Interesting Jobs. I usually skim them, but today’s—with a bookmobile driver—was worth the longread.

(When my parents and I moved to their current house in 1992, one of the first things I noticed about the neighborhood was the Bookmobile stop outside the school. I waited sixteen years for the Bookmobile. It never came. But still, there was hope. Because that's the dream, isn't it? A library that comes TO YOU.)

One of the very few causes that penetrates the lard and charcoal encasing my heart is literacy. The road to better runs through books, no matter what you’re trying to accomplish. When I recently found myself in conversation with two kids (yeah, I don’t know what happened) who wanted to know how I got so smart (NOW we’re talking), I told them I just read. A lot. A LOT. Books written in different time periods, of different genres*, by different kinds of people. THIS kind of diversity, I can get behind.

Comedian Sue Perkins traveled up (down?) the Mekong River for a BBC series last year, and while a trip through Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and China is a lot to shoot into your brainpan, the one moment that brought water to my eyeholes was her encounter with a library boat. Said boat travels part of the river, bringing books to kids who otherwise wouldn’t encounter them. (I mean, it’s the Mekong River. These people don’t even have doors.)

Water to My Eyeholes, You Guys

I shan’t rehash the importance of libraries in my own life, or try to guilt you into donating to literacy-based causes or attending the National Book Festival (which you SHOULD, obviously, more anon), but really the least you could do is read the McSweeney’s interview.

Do yourself some good. Close the Candy Crush and turn on the Kindle.

[Side note on this year’s Book Festival: Walter Isaacson, David McCullough, Cokie Roberts, Marilynne Robinson, and Jane Smiley are on my list so far. And since volunteering last year meant missing Doris Kearns Goodwin, I think I’m going to limit myself to just attending this year. Definitely a lady-or-the-tiger situation, tnough.]

* I may have inadvertently introduced those two kids to the word “genre” in that conversation. I kinda hope I did.

May 13, 2015

May 13, 2015

Blurred Times

Peggy Olson DGAF.
As we’re in the middle of spring quizzing season (sprizzing season?) (no, ew), I’m filling my mind with facts from the most excellent book Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things. Living in the few-chah as we do, it’s easy to forget that just about every item in our lives was once exciting and new. The comb. Cough drops. Christmas. Plus stuff beginning with the other 25 letters of the alphabet.

However, reading about the development of things like bobby pins and vacuum cleaners keeps reminding me that the romantic past was also smelly, dirty, and full of shit.* For my fellow astigmatic nearsighted, it was also blurry. This has to give you pause when considering how awesome it would be if you’d lived in Viking times, or ancient Rome, or fill-in-the-historical-era-of-your-choice. It would be maybe 1% awesome and 99% wondering why everyone’s covered in lice.

I don’t mind that most works of fiction set in olden days gloss over this stuff, because no one wants to watch the Game of Thrones people chat about their bowel movements.**

Speaking of TV worthy of obsession, the final MAD MEN ever is on Sunday and I’m not ready. I thought I was ready—because goodness knows I went through this with Friends and Dawson’s Creek and The O.C. and The Office and 30 Rock—but then I saw the excellent "Lost Horizon" episode.

Joan and Don in the elevator. The Miller pitch. Don in Wisconsin. (Wisconsin!) Every scene involving Roger. Every scene involving Peggy. Every millisecond involving Roger AND Peggy. Honestly, the only harsh on my mellow was poor Joan’s plotline, because it made me think the phrase “poor Joan” and Homey don’t play that. I realize her situation is absolutely realistic for the times, though, which makes me really glad I was born into a different era.

But anyway. It’ll soon be all over but the crying, and I guess this too shall pass.

* Literally. Literally full of shit. Think about it.
** Or maybe they do. I honestly don’t know. Here are all the things I *do* know about GoT:
            Westeros
            Winter is coming.
            Dragons
            Khaleesi
            Stark and Lannister
            Something about a wall