Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason

39. The Draining Lake - sixth in the Inspector Erlendur series
by Arnaldur Indridason
translated by Bernard Scudder
mystery, 2004
finished, 7/18/10

In each of Arnaldur Indridason's books I am completely transported to another land, a place utterly unfamiliar to me. As interested as I am in the plot, I am even more interested in the country and its people. In each book, I learn more and more about Iceland - its geography, weather, politics, and people.

This is Lake Kleifarvatn, the 'draining lake' in the book title. It is pronounced: Kley-varrr-vahtn. It is a real place and it is indeed draining. I read the following online:
At nine square kilometres, Lake Kleifarvatn is the largest lake on the Reykjanes peninsula and the third largest in southern Iceland, although its size tends to vary a bit, especially in recent years. After an earthquake in 2000 the lake started draining rapidly. Like water draining from a sink, its water level began to decrease. This obscure occurrence caught the attention of local as well as international geologists who are still speculating how this was even possible.
A woman who is recording the water level makes a discovery in this lake that never would have surfaced had this draining not occurred. Ribs and a skull are 'standing up' out of the lake bed. Right off the reader realizes that secrets will be revealed that may have been hidden for many years.

The book goes back and forth from the 1950s to the present, and from Iceland to East Germany. Young Icelandic communists were recruited, invited to attend college in Leipzig, a cultural city which bore little resemblance to its pre-war self. The descriptions make the reader feel that it a little hell on earth:
a sorry gloomy post-war place
electricity shortage
old wallpaper peeling from the walls
basement swarming with rats
And the psychological and emotional components of the city are even worse than the physical. Toward the end of the book there are chilling statistics:
East Germany had come the closest of any country to almost total surveillance of its citizens. The security police had headquarters in 41 buildings, the use of 1,181 houses for its agents, 305 summer holiday houses, 98 sports halls, 18,000 flats for spy meetings and 97,000 employees, of whom 2,171 worked on reading mail, 1,486 on bugging telephones and 8,426 on listening to telephone calls and radio broadcasts. The Stasi had more than 100,000 active but unofficial collaborators; 1,000,000 people provided the police with occasional information; reports had been compiled on 6,000,000 persons and one department of the Stasi had the sole function of watching over other security police members.
The idealistic Icelandic students walk into the horror, having no idea of what was really going on. They were sure these people were going to make a better world, and any inconveniences or unpleasant actions performed by the government were temporary and for the greater good.

The sections of the book set in East Germany reminded me of the fantastic film I wrote about here a few years ago called The Lives of Others.

Inspector Erlendur and his colleagues, Sigurdur Óli and Elinborg go to work trying to find out who the skeleton is. The body is a male who was connected to an old radio transmitter, and has been in the water for 40-50 years. They look into missing persons from those years. If you've read the earlier books, or perhaps read about them here, you may recall that missing persons are a particular interest, one might even say obsession, of Erlendur's. Sigurdur Óli notes:
Only two out of forty-five missing-persons cases over the past fifty years have been investigated as criminal matters
There is a flashback to when Erlendur began his career. An older policeman asks him if he has 'a particular interest in crime,' and Erlendur responds that he is 'interested in missing persons.'
I think they may have more to do with crimes than people think. I've got nothing to back me up. It's just a hunch.
This 'hunch' is what guides Erlendur through all such cases. He is haunted by the people left behind when someone goes missing; images such as a woman waiting outside a shop for her boyfriend to come. He goes to work trying to give some solace, some closure to them.

Throughout the investigation, we learn more and more about this country which is so very foreign to most of us.
We're a small community, everyone knows everyone else and is related to everyone else.

'Was he depressive?'
'No more than most Icelanders.'

Many Icelanders suffer serious depression, although most keep it well concealed.

In Iceland there's rarely a real motive behind a murder. It's an accident or a snap decision, not premeditated and in most cases committed for no obvious reason.

'We arrested the same man for burglary five times in one weekend. Every time he confesses and is released because the case is solved. He breaks in somewhere again, gets arrested, is released, burgles somewhere else. It's brainless. Why don't they set up a system here for sending idiots like that straight to prison? They clock up twenty or so crimes before they're given the minimum custodial sentence, then the minute they're out on probation you're arresting the same ones [word inserted in place of a most 'colorful' word in the book] again. What's the point of such madness?"
And Erlendur adds: 'You won't find a more hopeless set-up than the Icelandic judicial system.'

This is not a book I raced through. I didn't even read many pages each time I sat down. Some days I didn't read at all. I finished the one before this, Voices on June 25, and it took me three weeks to read The Draining Lake. I wanted to take time to think about what I read. It is a deep book, and the characters, especially Erlendur but also his children and co-workers get deeper with each book. I've simply never read anything like this series in my reading life.

The first book I read, Jar City, had a section at the beginning about Icelandic names. I think it would be helpful if it were repeated in all the Erlendur mysteries but they haven't been.
Icelanders always address each other using first names, since most people have a patronymic [based on the name of one's father, grandfather or an even earlier male ancestor] rather than a "proper surname" ending in -son for a son and -dóttir for a daughter. People are listed by first names even in the telephone directory. Strange as it may sound to the English ear, first names are therefore used throughout the police hierarchy and when police and criminals address one another. Erlendur's full name is Erlendur Sveinsson, and his daughter is Eva Lind Erlendsdóttir. Matronymics [a name derived from the name of a mother or female ancestor] are rare, although Audur is specifically said to be Kolbrúnardóttir, "Kolbrún's daughter." Some families do have traditional surnames, however, either derived directly from or else modelled on Danish, as a result of the colonial rule which lasted until early in the twentieth century. Briem is one of these traditional surnames, and as such it does not reveal the gender of the bearer - in the case of Marion Briem the ambiguous first name compounds this secondary mystery.
In The Draining Lake, Erlendur's family life isn't as prominent as in the other books, and his colleagues are a bit more in the forefront. One of them is hoping for children, and another has published a cookbook to great acclaim. We also spend some time with Erlendur's earlier, older co-worker who is retired, alone, ill, and bored. He still has insights to offer to the younger man. You could probably read the books out of order, but it has been fun for me to see the characters develop from book to book. Of course as I have noted, the first two haven't been translated into English. I would think all translations would begin with the first book in a series, but the Arnaldur Indridason books aren't the only ones which have been translated mid-series. Even so, I don't feel like I've missed much. I can't praise these books highly enough. If you'd like to read the other book reports, you may type Arnaldur into the search bar. Great, great series!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Making of a Home - part 3

So, all of a sudden on a July day, I heard pounding, hammering. I was amazed at the difference in sound from the first days of construction. The earlier sounds were big machines, back up beeps, while the actual building sounds were so much quieter, so subtle that I wasn't sure they were happening at the house. I thought they could be across the main road. I walked down to the kids' land, and there were four guys putting down the ceiling to the cellar/the subfloor to the downstairs. It was such a hot day, yet the fellows were all cheerful.

Such a pleasant occupation, building a house. It really must be one of the best jobs in the world.

From then on, something exciting happened every single day.

July 9

I love the look of the shadows

In one day, on July 12 all these walls and openings happened.

Front of the house

Same wall from the inside

The east wall - opening is for sliding glass doors

Looking out window above sink - south view

July 13 brought the completion of the first floor walls - the poles sticking out are for the front porch

The back of the house - above the sink window on L and dining area window R - south windows

The west side of house - master bedroom window L and master bath window R

On July 14 they framed the interior walls - master bedroom

Laundry room, master bath, closet (master bedroom to R)

Inside of laundry room

July 15 they put up the ceiling for the first floor/floor for the second floor - dining area east and south windows

Up on the top floor

'Climbing my house'

These were taken on the 17th because we had such storms at the end of the day on Friday, the 16th that I couldn't go down. On the 16th, they put up the stairs!

Top part of picture will be two upstairs bedrooms

Here you can see where the loft will begin
- the area left of the stairs

The second week began with the upstairs walls and windows.

Loft windows, all facing east

The two west bedroom windows

On Margaret's birthday they framed the upstairs south wall and windows - I don't know what that is the picture, maybe a reflection.

Margaret and Matthew arrived on their scooters for cake and presents

Thursday and Friday of this week they worked on the roof

Front of house
Back of house

So all this in two weeks time! They've also put in some electrical boxes, and the main electrical panel in the cellar. We are all amazed at how quickly the work goes. And we are so impressed with the quality of the work and the materials.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Past Perfect by Susan Isaacs

38. Past Perfect
by Susan Isaacs
fiction, 2007
unabridged audio read by Randye Kaye
finished, 7/16/10

Katie Schottland is almost 38 years old when we meet her; happily married with a wonderful ten-year old son and living in New York City. She is a writer for a television program called Spy Guys. Fifteen years ago she worked for a short time at the CIA. She adored her job and felt like she was doing something worthwhile for her country. Then she was fired, with no explanation. It has haunted her all these years. It hurt her self-esteem. She keeps wondering what on earth she did wrong. This isn't a huge part of her life, but it is always in the background of her thoughts and feelings. One day, completely out of the blue, she gets a phone call from a former colleague. Lisa says there is something she needs her help with, something of national importance. When Lisa calls, our heroine is preoccupied with getting ready to bring her boy to a camp for overweight children in Maine. She has a lot of guilt about this because she doesn't want him to think she doesn't accept him as he is. She is concerned about the childhood obesity stories she reads everywhere, but she recognizes that her Nick is not the norm in this instance. He is a 'foodie.' He loves all foods, particularly more 'adult' choices. Anyhow, she is absorbed in her feelings and thus doesn't give the call the attention she might have at another time. She is also reluctant and Lisa tells her if she'll agree to help, she will tell her why she lost her job. Lisa says she will call again the next day at four o'clock. And of course she doesn't.

The book continues with Katie trying to find out if Lisa is alright. She has a CIA connection who helps her out with the details of her tv show, and through him she meets someone else who knows about the time period when Katie worked for the agency. The past and the present collide in an interesting and suspenseful way.

I was vastly entertained listening to this book. The narrator was excellent. It is a great combination of mild wise-cracking humor and mystery/intrigue. I'm quite sure I read something by Susan Isaacs years ago, and this book reminds me that I really enjoy her writing and must read more. Someone recently gave me Lily White and I want to read it soon. You may read about the author's inspiration for the book here, and visit her website for information on all her other books.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A birthday!

A mother's treasure is her daughter.
Catherine Pulsifer

Today my beloved daughter is 28. Margaret is the woman I admire most in the world. She is kind, she thinks of others before herself, and she has the tenderest heart. We love her beyond what words can express.

Writing of her daughter, Natasha Josefowitz said, 'she is my favorite woman to be with.' And for twenty-eight years I have felt this about my own daughter.

When she was younger, though I never told her, I used to fear that she would live far away as a grownup and I didn't think I could bear it. I am thankful every minute that she has chosen to build this house on her family land and live just down the road from her childhood home.

She and Matthew (and little Piglet) in the house

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Farm and Garden Weekly - week of July 11

I recently told a couple readers that I really should write about the ease of growing daylilies, in case someone hasn't grown them before. First of all the orange ones, the so-called 'common' daylilies are the only perennials that were on this land when we bought it. There are still two areas where they grow that we haven't touched in all these 29 years. The soil has never been 'improved.' They just grow and grow. Most of our other orange daylily gardens have come from transplanting those originals. Many of the other colors were bought from a local nursery or White Flower Farm; and some were gifts from a co-worker of Tom's who was thinning out her own plants. We've never had a bit of trouble with any of them. We don't fertilize. We plant them thickly and we don't thin them nearly often enough. And yet they grow and thrive and give more pleasure than any flower I know. This week some of the orange ones are beginning to go by, but all the other colors are going strong with new ones opening every day.

The sweet peas have opened this week. I've already picked two bouquets.

The Zephyr squash looks like something out of the tropics.

And the first squashes appeared this week.

The pole beans may be taller than their supports but should be okay.

Years ago we bought four blueberry bushes. Two immediately died; the other two have straggled along all this time, and finally we have berries.

On the farm front, Tom put up some extra fencing this week to try and keep the goats from going through. They don't seem to care if there is electric fence or not. Goats do exactly what they want to do and go exactly where they want to go. They've already eaten down two small patches of orange daylilies. Since the double fencing, they haven't gotten out. Fingers crossed. You may read more about these little terrors here.

This week's egg count: 54

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pasta Fagioli

I first heard of this book when Kay sent me to Dawn's blog to read about it. After I raved in a comment, Dawn most generously sent me the book, and it is now one of my favorite cookbooks. As I read through it, I was amazed at how many of the dishes are vegetarian or can be made so very easily. I also saw many dishes we already make, including spaghetti with garlic and olive oil and pasta with sautéed vegetables. Her tomato sauce is much like mine, only leaving out the onion. I'll be offering more recipes from this wonderful book as time goes on. Here is one of many videos from you tube featuring Clara.

This is a very special book because it is both a cookbook and a personal history. There are family stories and photographs which are as much a part of the story as the recipes. One of my favorite phrases on earth is pasta fagioli, pronounced pasta fazool, and sometimes without the 'l' on the end. I'll post her version first, and then note the few changes I made. A real treat today is that the garlic and onion and basil all came from our garden.

Pasta With Beans (Pasta Fagioli)

Hands on: 30 minutes Total time: 1 hour, plus overnight soaking if using dried beans Serves:6

“Between you and me, I used to hate eating Pasta With Beans, but that’s because we had to eat it so much. Over the years, I’ve started to like it more. I remember in my house growing up, there were lots of things I didn’t like to eat that my mother made me eat. And then there were lots of things my own family didn’t like to eat. But I made them anyway. I guess that’s just how it goes. We had Pasta With Beans almost every week, sometimes twice or three times a week. Usually my mom would just make it with pasta, beans, garlic and olive oil, but every so often she would make a real Pasta Fagioli. And that would be really special.”

“If you decide to use dried beans, rinse them well before cooking. Add 1 cup dried cannellini beans to 6 cups boiling water and rapid boil for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and cover. Soak overnight. Makes about 2 cups. Before you begin, cook the pre-soaked beans by boiling them in water with a pinch of salt for about 10 minutes. Turn down the heat, cover, and simmer for an additional hour.”

5 tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, thinly sliced

1 yellow onion, thinly sliced

2 cups tomato sauce (jarred or homemade)

3 1/2 cups water

1 carrot, chopped

1 whole celery rib (with leaves), chopped

1 cup dried cannellini beans (white kidney beans) or 2 cups canned

2 chicken bouillon cubes

1 large basil leaf

2 dried red pepperoncini, crushed

1 pound small-shaped pasta (ditalini, mini-shells)

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Grated pecorino Romano cheese

In a large pot set to medium-high heat, add olive oil. Add garlic and onion and cook until caramelized, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add tomato sauce, water, carrot, celery, cannellini beans, bouillon cubes, basil leaf and pepperoncini. Cover, venting slightly, and cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is reduced, about 35 minutes.

While the sauce is reducing, cook the pasta to al dente (about 2 minutes less than what the directions on the box say, about 7 minutes). Strain pasta and pour it into the sauce. Turn off heat and stir 2 minutes. Top with fresh parsley and pecorino Romano cheese and serve.

My notes:
I put a cup of cannellini beans in the crockpot, and cooked them until soft, a few hours.
I chopped a carrot and cooked it a bit in a saucepan. I've found that carrots take forever to soften if cooked along with other vegetables.

I chopped the onion and garlic and the basil leaf.

I cooked the onion for a while in the 5 T. olive oil, then added the garlic and basil (I used the rest of the basil for a spring salad. Toward the end of cooking, I threw in the cooked carrot just for fun, and cooked a short while longer. I did this in a small frypan.

I put the 2 cups tomato sauce

and the cannellini beans and water into a big saucepan.

I added the onion, garlic, basil, and carrot, and that was it. I didn't have celery or parsley or pepperoncini. Though I do have a vegetable broth made by the Rapunzel company, I chose not to use it.

The smallest pasta I had on hand was elbow macaroni, and this worked just fine. Honestly you could eat the bean mixture without any pasta at all if you wished. It is just delicious, and a bit similar to a few of the stews I've made (see under main meals on the sidebar). A fantastic dish, and as healthy as can be!