Friday, January 24, 2020


To celebrate the first day of Iceland's Thorrablot feasting festival, here is a blast from the past; specifically, January 2002.

It began like this:

"Only one word of Icelandic ever made it into the English language," I tell Van Stein, the artist. "Do you have any idea what that word is?"

"Hit me."

"Berserk," I whisper.

The reason I'm whispering is because we're in Starbucks, Montecito, and most of the other patrons around us already think we're nuts.

"Berserk," Van Stein echoes. "Of course! Norse warriors, the Beserkers. You're right, we need to go there."

"In January, during Thorrablot."


"A three week feast."

Van Stein smacks his lips.

"They serve seal flippers, rotted shark, which they bury for three months till it's good and rotted, boiled sheep's head, raw whale blubber, and pickled ram's testicles. For dessert they make lamb's liver pudding."

This is a hearty people, descended from the Vikings. They've been doing Thorrablot since 1878, when they became independent from Denmark (before Pepto Bismo was invented).

Van Stein is rocking back and forth. "How do you know all this?" he asks.

"I've been meaning to do Iceland for a while, did my research. I guess I needed to connect with a nocturnal artist before actually going there."

"I don't know," says Van Stein.

"What don't you know?"

"I've got more commitments than money."

"Money shouldn't mean squat to an artist," I say.

"Yep, squat's all I got."

"Not if you make it to Iceland. Then you'll have the runtur."

"The what?"

"Their version of a pub crawl. It doesn't start till after midnight, when the locals are already blasted on a native schnapps called Black Death. As an artist, you could do a whole show around Iceland. Call it Purity. You already paint Santa Barbara blindfolded. How about a real challenge?"

Van Stein falls off his chair, picks himself up and brushes latte foam from his lips. "That's it!" he hollers. "I'm going to Patagonia in Ventura to buy long-johns!"