Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland: No. 5 — October 1923

Gramophone 1923-10
From an ad for a Decca portable gramophone.

NOVEMBER 19th 2018 — A report from one of the London gramophone societies discusses Italian composer Pietro Mascagni’s 1890 opera CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA (“RUSTIC CHIVALRY“). The writer comments:

“[…] probably the most original point is the INTERMEZZO — which even the errand boys know — played while the curtain remains up and the stage is empty. It is a refreshing lull between the various passionate episodes of the drama.”

This INTERMEZZO is one of those pieces I listen to every available recording of mentioned in the pages of THE GRAMOPHONE. I believe I first heard it in two episodes of NORTHERN EXPOSURE: 3.23 “Cicely” (1992) and 5.22 “GRAND PRIX” (1994).

In the former, it accompanies a beautiful dance by town co-founder Cicely, and in the latter it plays as Ed Chigliak physically fights “the demon of external validation”. But no recording available is mentioned in this report, so no playlist item of this for now.

An article about a visit to a record-pressing factory of His Master’s Voice (HMV) mentions in passing a musician who was to die at the age of 35 later this decade (the 1920s) after a short illness:

“We saw the whole process of record-making. We heard an orchestra, with Max Darewski at the piano, in the recording room, and heard the piece instantly returned from the wax.”

I also mentioned him in the previous entry in this series in connection with a ragtime piece of his.

Also interesting to note the word “robots” already being used in this 1923 article (“automatic machines which worked like Robots at the making of screws, etc.”), considering that this word was coined only three years earlier, in 1920.

The review pages quote Debussy’s delightful comment on Grieg (many of Grieg’s pieces are among my favorites):

“Grieg is like a pink bon-bon stuffed with snow.”

I’m not sure whether Debussy meant this as a slight or not, really, but to me it’s quite charming and creates a vivid sensory impression. Also, like most northern kids, I’ve eaten snow more than once in my life — just for the taste or because thirsty when playing outside as a kid.

This issue was short of any references to recordings that hold special appeal for me. But rather than skip the Spotify playlist for this entry altogether, these would be my choices from an unexciting selection this time:

  • Two takes of the same Chopin piece by pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch: IMPROMPTU NO. 2 IN F SHARP MAJOR, Op. 36 No. 2. The difference in tempi makes one of the takes ten seconds shorter than the other.
  • Tenor Roland Hayes singing the American spiritual “SIT DOWN”.

Spotify playlist for this entry, “Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland: No. 5 — October 1923”:

This issue is available as part of the magazine’s digital archive, which every subscriber (a month or a year, digital or print+digital) gets access to.

Earlier entries in this series:

Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland: No. 4 — September 1923

Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland: No. 3 — August 1923

Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland: No. 2 — June 1923

Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland: No. 1 — April 1923

A dream of beauty

Room to Dream
Café Paris, Reykjavík, summer of 2018.

OCTOBER 16th 2018 — I had a lovely dream. Sometimes our subconscious mind, or some other providence, gifts us with moments of beauty in dream no matter how waking life is. The only downside is, of course, waking up.

In the dream I mentioned to someone a wedding of persons who were strangers to her. To my surprise, she got tears in her eyes, even though she did not know the people who got married. The topic of weddings in general could move her so deeply, or maybe there were more specific personal associations for her.

I felt such affection for this sensitive and beautiful soul. She smiled and laughed as the tears kept coming.

As we continued speaking, it came as the most natural thing in the world to lie down on the couch — we were in a living room I have not (at least yet) been to in the waking world — and seek out the other’s hand with our own as we kept talking, both unexpectedly so happy in the special moment that had suddenly happened that it felt like nothing could ever change it.

Talking, sharing, holding hands, looking into each other’s eyes, both warmed by the rich warmth of the other and of that moment, it was like swimming in happiness and the beautiful promise of life.

Let’s watch THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER in Iceland: 1.01: “Marionettes, Inc.”

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Title card with appropriate “digital clock” typeface.

SEPTEMBER 20th 2018 — Ray Bradbury loved cinema and cinematic storytelling all his life.

From trips to the movies with a beloved family member when he was a boy, he fell in love with the form and it never ended.

Two characteristics permeate all his writing: all of it is lyrical — he had the soul of a poet and that’s why he’s one of my favorite writers — and much of it is powerfully sensual. It engages all the senses.

He said one could film any of his stories by simply turning each sentence or paragraph into a shot. All the information was there, he said, in his writing: what to show and when and how.

From 1985 to 1992 the world enjoyed his TV series THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER. It was filmed on location in many countries: Canada, the United States, New Zealand, and France.

Ray personally scripted every episode and proved his profound and natural understanding of how to tell a story in this form. His work for the series is a model of what to do and not do in scripting film and television.

(I prefer saying just “film” from now on. These are mini-movies in all but name.)

Scenes are allowed to unfold without drowning everything under too much dialogue. Just enough is said and not said. Sights, sounds, and yes, through the power of his work and that of his collaborators, also smells, tastes, and tactile experiences come through.

Iceland is to me Bradbury country and more like the remembered land of my childhood than anywhere else I have been as an adult. Magic is still possible here. The elements have power, like in his stories. The wind has a presence unlike anywhere else. There is the sea, there are mountains and waterfalls, and dark nights and summer cottages in pristine nature.

Stories live here and are respected. As is poetry. As is music. I write this in a snug bedroom with a great big bed and a slanting ceiling of the kind that through some geometrical alchemy seems to fire the imaginations of all creative people. I wish more than anything that I could really share all this.

In any case, Iceland is a great place to watch THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER. I also did so in Paris last winter, and before that in Finland. As an adult, and long ago, first in childhood.

“Marionettes, Inc.” (1985), directed by Paul Lynch (who also directed many episodes of the STAR TREK spin-offs), is not among my favorite episodes. I felt casting James Coco (1930–1987) as the protagonist was not the best choice.

But like all these episodes, this one too affords many incidental delights. Here are some of them.


This and every other episode of THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER is available as part of a DVD box set. Despite nearly VHS-quality video, it comes with my warmest recommendation.

1st day of school

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Veröld (“World”) on the University of Iceland campus. This building — “hús Vigdísar” (“house of Vigdís”) — was founded in honor of Vigdís Finnbogadóttir (“Vigdís, Finnbogi’s daughter”), the first democratically directly elected female president in the world. She was president of Iceland from 1980 to 1996. Whereas my own country of birth, Finland, was the first, in 1906, to give women full political rights, i.e. the right to vote as well as run for office. But Finland got its first female president, Tarja Halonen, only in the year 2000. She left office in 2012.

SEPTEMBER 15th 2018 — My studies in Icelandic as a Second Language at the University of Iceland started with an orientation week in the penultimate week of August 2018. The first day was beautiful and sunny, warm but not too warm.

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Orientation event “The Keys to Success at the University of Iceland”.

I was especially impressed by the warmth radiated by the head of the program, Professor Jón Karl Helgason (“Jón Karl, Helgi’s son”). He spoke softly and with a glint of humor, starting his introductory talk with a photo of his newborn son. He told us this was going to be our competition for the coming year — he expects us to match or exceed the progress of the young one.

This warmth is something I have rarely felt in the presence of Finnish teachers, but in Iceland it is not uncommon. Many Icelanders know how to bring warmth to a whole room, as Jón Karl did. It made the place feel welcoming and supremely safe. Whereas in Finland, in my experience, it is more common for rooms to have a constant low-level tension. It makes a huge difference.

But I don’t mean to put down Finns, who can have fine qualities of their own. And I have been fortunate enough to have studied under several exceptional ones.

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The menu at the student canteen Háma (“Gobble”) on my first day.

During a break I found my way to the canteen, where I ate healthily: vegetable balls in curry pineapple sauce with pasta and salad, with a vitamin drink.

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First meal at my new “home away from home”.

Other orientation week activities included a guided tour of the campus, hotdogs and soda in the open air, and of course a student party at the on-campus Stúdentakjallarinn (“The Student Cellar”) — with free bjór (beer).

As we were told during a later visit to the Settlement Museum, beer has long been important in Iceland. In the old days, no feast would have been possible without it, and feasts were very important community-strengthening events.

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Landsbókasafn Íslands — Háskólabókasafn (“National Library of Iceland — University Library”) is the largest library in Iceland, with over a million items, including valuable manuscripts. So valuable that the library is surrounded by an actual moat. The building took 16 years to finish and opened in 1994.

I headed home in the evening to my apartment in Kópavogur (“Seal Pup Bay”), feeling it had been a good start.

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Aðalbygging (“Main Building”) at night. University of Iceland, late August 2018.

I would soon be moving much closer to the university, however. But that’s a different story.

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A cool jazz trio jammed at Stúdentakjallarinn at the close of the first orientation day.

“…a long, long time.”

Garibaldi drinks
BABYLON 5: “Phoenix Rising” (1998).

SEPTEMBER 14th 2018 — Our minds work in mysterious ways. Why are we sometimes suddenly reminded of something long in the past, with no obvious trigger for that particular memory? Things just find their own time to happen.

Today for some reason I was reminded of Garibaldi’s alcoholism storyline in BABYLON 5. The actor who portrayed him, Jerry Doyle, passed away in 2016 at the age of 60.

Along with those of G’Kar (the wonderful Andreas Katsulas) and Londo (the equally wonderful Peter Jurasik), his was one of my favorite storylines in this series that for many these days seems to have fallen between the cracks between the latter-day STAR TREKs and Ron Moore’s reimagined BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, which went darker than any popular TV SF series ever.

I just think there was particularly much truthfulness and emotional resonance to Garibaldi’s story, including the story thread of his struggles with alcohol. It was introduced in the first-season episode “Survivors” — still one of the early episodes I remember liking best — and came to play a bigger part later on.

I let my complete VHS collection go many years ago and haven’t repurchased the series since, as I rewatched all of it so many times in my earlier years that I still remember most of it nearly photographically.

From “Survivors”, for example, Garibaldi’s sad, regretful, softly spoken lines about how, long in the past, after a tragic event he crawled inside a bottle and didn’t come out for a long time.

I guess characters with regrets, and the numerous ways they cope or fail to cope with them, will be around, and relatable, as long as we human beings continue to fail so spectacularly and so often at being kind to one another.

Googling some of this today, I also noticed something interesting. In a much later episode, he sings “SHOW ME THE WAY TO GO HOME”, which became one of my favorite songs long after BABYLON 5 — so I didn’t remember it had featured on the show. (More of the interesting workings of our minds.)

Specifically, I came to feel very fondly about this song after a friend posted a few years ago that scene from JAWS with the main characters singing it, badly (that’s why it’s so good), in the little boat at night. I’ve since gone back to watch it again a few times.

One of those rare songs that can bring you up when you really need it.