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Showing posts from April, 2009

Þið

I have always lamented that English does not have a plural you, no way to distinguish between you meaning one person and you meaning all of you (unless one says y'all, which one might sometimes say but never write). Icelandic on the other hand has a plural you, þið. For some reason I have a much easier time with using this word in its accusative, dative, or even genitive case, rather than in the nominative. When I say something that would translate as, 'Are you plural going to do that?', it comes out instead as 'That is going to you' or God knows what, because I say, 'Ætla ykkur að gera það?' instead of 'Ætlið þið að gera þetta?' After all this time, I finally get to use a plural you, and boy I wish I could do it right. 

Meximelt

On my way home from a marathon meeting in the city, I decided to stop at Taco Bell. In terms of fast food places, Taco Bell ranks as probably my favorite. When I was 16 or 17, still driving my little red Maxda RX7, I bought a meximelt at the Taco Bell down the street from my house, on my way to church or something. I was really hungry. I remember the man handing me the food and I decided to eat it standing up, right there near the cash register. Another man near me watched me do it, heard me sort of let out a little yumm as I ate. When I was done he said, 'wow, sure is nice to see someone enjoy their food so much.' 
Today as I went into Taco Bell in Hafnafjorður, I thought about that meximelt, how good it was. And I decided I really wanted to order one. I searched the menu, did not find a meximelt. I found some other chicken melt thing, but no, I wanted a meximelt. So I asked the cashier if they had one, she said she thought so, and asked a big black man working behind the coun…

Faeroe Islands

Yesterday I talked to my colleague in the Faeroe Islands, and we were laughing about the fact that the way I speak Norwegian, which is basically Icelandic with a sing song tone, means I am speaking Faeroese. On a less upbeat note, it looks like my trip to the Faeroes may get delayed until early June, which is OK since of course I am really busy. Of course, when one is busy, a trip to somewhere one has never been before (but always half-thought about visiting) sounds really nice. 

Phrases

Today I heard that, 'Knock yourself out!' does not work very well in Icelandic. I wonder if 'Pretty Please with Sugar on Top' would. 

Heritage bearers

In cultural anthropology, we have a term for certain members of society that are especially diligent about learning things from their parents or grandparents, ways to do things that are perhaps no longer necessary in today's society. These people are called heritage bearers. They can be story tellers or carvers, seamstresses or basket weavers, reindeer herders. People who took the time to listen when their grandparents prattled on about the old days. These people are considered especially good informants for anthropologists.
In some countries, people like this can be nominated to receive Living National Treasure designation. They may live out their lives in quiet simplicity, but such an award allows others to take note of what they can and do offer society, even when it has no monetary value what so ever. 
I work with someone like that, Gunnar Marel Eggertsson. Unfortunately, here in Iceland, there is no award for people like him, people who consider the past more important than the…

Pottery

Every Icelander has a container they keep their coffee in, they dump the coffee out of the bag into said container. I always lamented not having a container like that, ever since I started drinking coffee years ago.
One Fall, when I was walking along the streets of Athens, I wandered into a pottery museum, and after looking around the exhibits, I wanted to buy something. I asked the sales shop lady if she had anything for coffee. At first they looked around, half apologetic, not sure what they had. Then one lady pulled out a small white jar, with an olive branch decoration, and she pointed out that the Greek letters in the center spelled coffee. We looked at each other, both started smiling and laughing. Of course I bought it, had it with me in California, and now it is my favorite thing in my kitchen, here in Iceland.
That alone made up for my rather unfortunate Greek experience.

Marketing

A lot of people I know have gone into marketing. My first boyfriend. My first husband thought about and then changed his mind, became an academic instead (or tried to). A friend here in Iceland did the same. Dave has a marketing degree but went into the Coast Guard. I myself have never toyed with the idea much, although my mom told me on several occasions that I would be a good company spokes person (I rather doubt that, I am far too eager to express my opinion!). 
Today, as myself and our marketing manager were having words over our marketing strategy, I started thinking about marketing in general. Or the propensity for people to believe the projected image, to be attracted to a projected image. Men that like women who are thin and smart and accomplished with a pretty face. This is what Derrida called loving for characteristics. Marketing depends on us projecting those characteristics that visitors will find appealing. Instead of just letting them come and see for themselves the conte…

Violists

The first time I came to Iceland, it was with my mom and my brother when I was 7 years old. We spent a lot of time that summer with my mother's first cousin and her two children, a boy Einar and a girl Margret. Margret was older than my brother, and Einar a bit younger than my brother but older than me, and we all got along pretty well. I especially adored Margret, probably because she reminded me of my sister who had stayed behind in California; they are about the same age and both have strawberry blond hair. I guess it was the summer when I was 9 that I caught on to another similarity; they both played the viola. Of course, my sister stopped doing so when she was 17 I think, but Magga still does it today, freelancing her talents on the mean streets of New York, after graduating from Juilliard. 

My job

Just wanted to say that my job is actually oh so much fun. I suppose it would have to be, otherwise it does not make a lot of sense that I would leave my adorable, amazing, smart little boy in California with his dad, even though I know he is being very well looked after and is happy. Still I hope he'll be impressed when he comes here in June, and gets to see everything his mommy has been doing. I have a feeling he will be. 

Icelandic tutor

It is seriously getting tiring at work, that I cannot think of the proper way to conjugate even the simplest nouns. I must get an Icelandic tutor, that is all there is to it. As soon as I find the time. And the money. 

Norræna vs. North Atlantic

First I would just like to say the weather today was delicious! It was too bad I was too busy talking to one contractor after another to enjoy it, but on the plus side, I actually feel I am getting something done, and that is the best stress reliever of all. 
As I was eating dinner, I decided to flip on the news, see what was up. Iceland has a new government today! Just like that! Ta Da! It is actually the same government it has had since January, but that is OK, it is a good government, an interesting government, with lots of differing viewpoints on matters but a genuine desire to work together. What could be better than that?
Anyhow, the heads of the two parties that will form the new government met at Norræna hús, and held their extremely informal press conference outside (I guess owing to the LOVELY weather...). Johanna made a big deal about the symbolic importance of being outside of Norræna hús, the idea I guess being that Iceland was going to rejoin the other Scandinavian countri…

Ský sky

I know one of the things I love about living here in Iceland is the clouds. There are so many different types of clouds here, and at any given time the variety of types and shades from white to black in the sky at once always amazes me. I guess it is because the swirling of the winds and the differences in water temperature in this part of the North Atlantic. In California, there was hardly ever a cloud in the sky. And if it was, it was one type of cloud, either cumulus or stratus, and those would be the clouds on hand all day long. 
When the sun peaks out from the clouds here, it rakes across the landscape, bringing out all the colors in the grass and the rocks and the houses. And today, there are still white caps on the mountains in the distance. It is so beautiful, it makes me want to stop time. 

Election results

I was unfortunately too tired to go to a birthday/election party I was invited to in the city last night (thought it best to go into today with a clear head!), but I am most eager to see what the upshot is this morning. With 97% returns counted, it looks like the two parties currently in power, Samfylkingur and VG will be able to hold their position, now with a majority of 34 Thingmen out of 63. But it seems to me it would be a very nice gesture, after everything that happened last fall, if these two parties would invite the new popular movement party, Borgarhreyfing, to join them. That party looks to get 4 Althingi seats, and in the process deflating several other wore out fringe parties. In my opinion, VG and S would be sending a clear message about their belief in democracy and in reform if they would offer Borgarhreyfing a real say in the new government, including a seat on the cabinet, and perhaps having them be in charge of the Constitutional Committee that many Icelanders have …

3 in 1!

I have a rather complicated work related story to relay, but in the end it gets around to a point. Of course, it is a point I have made before, about the totally bizarre way things really and truly do seem to work out here in Iceland. 
As some of you might know, Skáli Íslendings, aka Viking Aldan, aka Vikingaheimar aðalbygging, will house Gunnar Marel's Viking ship, Íslendingur. The ship is a work of art, in my opinion, and the captain a national treasure, not only did he build it by hand, he then sailed it across the North Atlantic with a crew of 8. At first, Íslendingur was the only thing that was supposed to be in Skáli Íslendings. 
Well, I of course changed that. Innocently sent the mayor an email way back in 2003, asking, 'Wouldn´t you like a Viking exhibition to go with the ship?'. The mayor, smart man that he is, decided to give my idea a go. So, that is how two projects, the Viking exhibition I curated and Gunnar's ship sailing, came to be housed in the same buil…

Extended area service

So, yesterday my adventurous brother decided to take his jetski out exploring the Escambia river, which runs between the pan handle of Florida and Alabama. After he'd been out for a while, the jetski started stalling, and eventually he could not get it to start anymore. He beached it and was trying to work on the engine, see what was wrong, when it occurred to him to call my dad for mechanical advice. 
This reminded me of the time many, many years ago, when my mom and I got a call from my dad, who was out in the desert. He had been exploring mine shafts, and night time had snuck up on him rather quickly. He called my mom to tell her he was lost, and thought it might be best to sleep in the car for the night instead of driving around, getting more lost. 
There is something very strange about cell phone coverage, that one can in fact be lost and yet still call people to tell them about it. People that are hundreds if not thousands of miles away, and in no position to be of immediate a…

That's the same!

The polling station had the same set up, and the same serious air about it, as the polling stations in the states. And the feeling as I exited was exactly the same too: I am part of something bigger than myself. 

iceskating

Another winter has ended, and I again did not get to go iceskating. Poor iceskates have sat here in Iceland for two winters, unused. Really awful to think of it. But then, I am not an Olympic iceskater or anything

The 'Very Geeky' party

Twice over the last few weeks, I have been around groups of Icelanders when the election (which is being held tomorrow) has come up. On both occasions, as people went around the room saying what party they were going to vote for, when it came to my turn, I threw up my arms and thumbs in a victorious pose and yelled out, Vinstri Graen! Both times, all the Icelanders let out a huge moan and a chorus of "Nei, Lissy" was heard. Today I went into the Vinstri Graen election headquarters here in Reykjanesbaer, because I am actually trying to make up my mind about voting or not. Walk in to find two old guys sitting in the ramshackle remains of a Thai restaurant, which did not look like a rally spot at all save the enormous blow ups of the extreme closeups of the four VG candidates in the window. A few nervous looking female students left shortly after I got there. The two guys seemed to assume I would leave soon, kind of just looked at me funny. But I took a seat, made myself at hom…

Swimming pools

I had a swimming pool in my backyard growing up, I may have mentioned this already. But I was thinking about it today, since the weather is nice, thinking about swimming. Having a pool in one's own backyard is undeniably great, and I think for two really different reasons. First of all, there are times when it is so nice to just dive into a pool all by oneself, to feel the freedom of having the whole pool to swim back and forth in. I have actually a sort of underwater ballet routine I came up with in my pool, and I can still do it, I still remember it. It takes up the whole pool, so I can only do it when I am alone in there. So that was one thing I liked about having a pool in the backyard. The other thing though was how absolutely great it was to have a pool party, how we could invite our friends over any old day of the week at any time, and it was so much fun. Playing Marco Polo and the Match game, practicing crazy dives, jumping from the jacuzzi into the pool, all of it were th…

Editing

Today I am trying to write one paper, edit another, then I have things to translate and edit over the weekend. I hate to be rushed on these sorts of projects, because actually, it is a really complicated task. Not to get the words on paper, that is not such a big deal. The issue is rather to weigh through all of what has been written, and to carefully think about how each point relates to the other, which points need to be emphasized, which made less bombastic, where to put more care and feeling, where to put more methodological rigor, where to use a metaphor, where to scale it back and be subtle. Editing a paper is like directing a play, arguing a legal case, and painting a painting all at the same time, and many things must be considered. 
Not since I was an undergraduate have I just deleted a whole paper and started over, even if that is tempting. Because there is always good ideas in the first draft, always. 

Summer houses

I asked my cousin last night if she could help me find a summer house to rent for a bit this summer. And then I read a blog of a friend of mine, wondering what in the world is the attraction for Icelanders with summer houses anyhow? 
I think that is a legitimate question, but that the answer is not so easy. Of course there are plenty who take it as a status marker that they own a summer house, and can say that is where they are going. There are others who like it for the chance to socialize with new people, either those who have summer houses nearby or those who come to stay at the summer house. I think some Icelanders like to go to summer houses because they see that, as many also see camping, as a good excuse to get really drunk, since no one has to drive anywhere. Surely there are others who head out to summer houses filled with romantic notions of getting back to basics, away from the TV or whathaveyou, out in the countryside. 
But for me, the summer house is the place to go with ki…

Ólafur Hreinn

Last night several of my first cousins, their kids, and my aunt went over to my uncle's house. It was his birthday. Uncle Óli is the youngest of my mother's siblings, and was until recently a bit of a lonely bachelor, living in my grandparent's house alone after they passed away. He has worked in the same fish factory in Grindavík for a good 20 years, perhaps longer. Recently, one of the ladies he works with, a short, plump Thai lady named Leung, has moved in with him. 
Many Icelanders celebrate big birthdays with formal parties, rent out a hall and have catered food. But even without the recession, this would not have been something one would do for Óli. He does not like crowds. 
But still we wanted to do something. So we decided we would all just show up with some food and presents on his birthday, just us. 
I do not usually babble on in my blog about these sorts of things, unless it sheds some light on Icelandic culture. I am rather sure this was outside of the cultural no…

Instant messaging

I was an instant messaging neophite until recently. But one of my friends has a Gmail account, same as me, and we pretty regularly have a quick convo that way, just to check in, nothing anyone would email about per se. A couple of my friends on Facebook have noticed I was signed in, and have asked how I was doing via the pop-up option, and Skype provides that capability also, when both parties are online, to chat instead of video conferencing, which sometimes saves time. 
I am glad for these ways to keep in touch with friends far and wide. I am also glad for my blog, and my blogging friends. Who knew the world was so full of interesting people! 

The election

I have been trying to keep up a bit with the different political parties, and find myself rather interested in the dynamic that arises from this multi-party system. In the U.S., it is virtually impossible to define what it means to be a Republican without reference to the idea of what it means to be a Democrat. Many people are Republicans only because they do not like the Democratic party, not because they love the Republican party so much. 
Some of the political parties here in Iceland have adopted this adversarial tone also. Choose us because the other people are really terrible! And of course in a multi-party system, one then has to list the sins of each party except one's own. The impression is that if you were to vote for anything else, boy oh boy what an idiot you would be. 
But actually, in a multi-party system, this is not necessary. A party can come to the table and say our main issue is X, and if you agree this is the most important issue, please vote for us. As far as I c…

Old books

The smell of old books always reminds me of the first year I was interning at the Smithsonian, looking through Julian Stewart's field notes from his Boasian adventure on Nunivak Island. 

The inventor

My dad is a wee bit of an inventor, always has been. I remember his tinkering in the garage with this or that, a centrifuge really sticks in my head for some reason, and he built a coin counting machine and a solar generator to heat our pool. These days he is experimenting with a wind generator. 
The only problem with growing up with a dad like that is that when one encounters a problem with a known solution (in my case, locks that do not work) I am not inclined to follow any sort of standard protocol, such as calling a locksmith. There must be a better solution, I think to myself, and try to prod those around me to come up with something. Occasionally this works, but most of the time they just look at me like I am nuts, and then I really wish my dad was around. 

Surpassing expectations

A small group of school kids just stopped by for a minute, which was nice. As more and more visitors stop by our almost-finished exhibition hall, my feeling that we may in fact surpass everyone's expectations continues to increase. The building is definitely cool (the practical quirks are not really noticeable to visitors), the setting at the end of a rocky point clearly invigorating, the layout of the hall welcoming and open, the content of the exhibition solid and well-informed, the ship simply too beautiful for words. Plus I think people will be surprised by the details here or there, even the kids. Although I have a lot of work to do, I really cannot wait to open.

Orange tabby

With spring time in the air, I was sort of hoping the orange tabby might start coming around again. But with the weather today, that was out of the question. Even though he is a pretty brave little cat. 

American history

I am still stuck a bit on this name change up here at the Base, was talking to a coworker about it today. I do not know for sure, but I think part of the reason it is bothering me is that it seems to be part of an effort to disassociate this place from its links to the United States. These links die out slowly on their own, but certainly a name change pushes that along nicely.
Of course I know this interpretation stems from my own insecurity that everyone here disapproves of the United States. American history is full of events that range from not so great to downright despicable, from the slaughtering of Native Americans to the advent of the assembly line industrial plants, not to mention our forays abroad through the military and popular culture. I am appalled by so much of it, and yet still, I hate being judged on that basis, on the basis of being an American. Because it is still my country, always will be. 
And really, that is what the election of Obama was all about. Making all of …

Of course

It finally came out today, with the workers from the township, that I am not some exotic foreigner, but rather one of them. Yep, I mentioned something about my aunt, and all of a sudden, one of the started telling me the names of all of my other relatives, where they all live and what they are doing (well, not all of them, I stopped him when he got through my first cousins!). Turns out one of the other ones used to be pretty good friends with my uncle. So there you go. That is how you get in the inner circle in Reykjanesbær! 

Huh

I go back and forth between making my bed the American way and the Icelandic way. Tonight I put the duvets over my two mini comforters, and got rid of the flat sheet. And just like that, I have traveled from the U.S. to Iceland again. 

Cooperative weather!

I am so happy that the weather is as windy and rainy as it is, because I have a ton of work to do, a database to clean up, an article to revise, another article to write, plus all my exhibit stuff. The first two are due MONDAY! There is of course something to be said for deadlines, but when people tell you on Friday you have until Monday to get something done, I have a tendency to not want do it at all. However, the weather gods in Iceland have spoken, and I am happily glued to my computer, listening to the lashing of water against my window. 

Moving days

From the time of the settlement of Iceland until the 20th century, spring time was moving days. This was the time of the year when the servant or working class would decide whether or not they wanted to stay in a particular household, and also when the head of the household would decide how many workers they would need and of what type for the upcoming year. A kind of annual review, but one at which the entire running of the farmstead would be decided, and thus all the staffing needs worked out at once, combined of course with salary negotiations for those who were going to stay on. 
One spring when my grandmother was a teenager, she heard about a farm on the shores of Lake Thingvellir needing help, and so she went there and was taken on. My grandfather lived at that farm, a bit sickly from youth, and well, from that spring on they were inseparable. 
My aunt lives on a farm in Sandgerdi. In the 1930s, the man who ran the farm became a widower, and when the next spring came around, he ne…

Next Saturday

Well, this may be a dangerous admission, but next Saturday is election day, and I am planning not to vote. The problem is, I have not received the least bit of information about the process. I mean, in the United States, I always try to vote, have even volunteered on election day. But I know how that system works. I know I am supposed to register ahead of time, I get the sample ballot in the mail so I know what to expect, and poling places are always pretty easy to find. Then it is an easy matter to just pop in and do your civic duty. I have no desire to spend next Saturday fumbling around trying to figure it out on the fly. Call me lazy, but I plan to sit this one out. 

Ásbrú

Last week I heard a rumor that they were changing the name of where I live, again. When the base was here, it was called officially called Varnarstöð (defense place). When the military left, everyone started calling it Vallarheiði (the high field I guess or the plateau). Place naming conventions in Iceland are usually either based on the physical appearance of a place or an association with a historic person, so Vallarheiði fit with the former pattern, and I kind of liked it. Well, someone did not, I guess, because the township here has decided to rename this Ásbrú. 
In so doing, the township is drawing on another naming convention, one far more familiar to me from Southern California. Housing construction companies, when building their gigantic track home developments, have a penchant for coming up with evocative names for their creations: Windy Meadows, Live Oak, Kingstowne, Huckleberry. The list goes on and on. A drive through one of these towns, past all the cleverly named developm…

Einar Skulason!

Well, this is so cute, so totally Icelandic. Someone I've met a few times, chatted up over lamb soup, turns out he has decided to run for office. I am sure people who live in small towns have had this experience, but this is the first time it has happened to me, that I meet a person before they become involved in politics. And I am so excited because I thought he was a nice guy, steady and sensitive and smart. That he supports the idea of a constitutional convention to completely rewrite Icelandic law has now got me all gung ho for a what a great idea this is too, whereas before I could have kind of gone either way about it. I guess the trick of politics works just about the same everywhere.... 

Dreams of camping

I have so much work to do the next two weeks, and then a lot all through May also. But still I cannot help it, I have started day dreaming about this summer, about going camping or out to a summer house. I spent one glorious summer in Skagafjórður and my last road trip was up to Myvatn. But I have to say, the southcoast of Iceland feels more like home. My grandfather grew up on the south coast of Lake Thingvellir, and his father was born in Fljótshlið. I spent a few weeks in Hvolsvöllur one summer, and could well imagine living there. 
Of course, I could also imagine living in Austin, Halifax, or anywhere in California. Or camping there, that would be OK too. 

Surprising simple

Today's conference was mostly par for the course for an Icelandic conference. The Cultural Minister whizzed in and out. The Icelandic speakers spoke Icelandic, while everyone else spoke English, and several of the international guests who could not understand Icelandic left early. Running behind schedule can happen anywhere, so that was not so particularly Icelandic. But then a really un-Icelandic thing happened: one speaker was playing a short video just via his computer. No one could hear the audio, but no one complained. Then all of a sudden, the panel organizer stood up, pushed the microphone down to the level of the computer, and the miracle of sound filled the room. 
Such decisive action without prodding was positively American, even the guy who did it seemed surprised, looked around the room to see if everyone caught that, who knew I had it in me sort of thing. Because really I think culturally, he was supposed to wait until a woman complained.  

Svo mikið krútt!

I believe there are probably lots of cultural reasons for this, but I would like to postulate that one reason Icelanders are almost happy about the recession here is linguistic. You see, they do not have a complex, overbearing, latinate to describe this nebulous process like recession or depression. Ye gads! No, they have a really cute word for it, a word that cannot help but sound cute no matter the context: kreppa. It almost sounds like a dance or something. It also reminds native speakers (and here I am just WILDLY speculating) of another Icelandic word, skreppa, which means to stop by, do something quick. Which is also a really cute word.

Cultural minister

Tomorrow I am going to a conference where the 'opening address' will be given by the cultural minister. This is the third such conference I have been at (though the other 2 times it the former Cultural Minister, not the new one). I find this a particularly quaint Icelandic tradition, that any conference that has foreign guests speaking at it and is sponsored by a body of the cultural division of the government can expect the Cultural Minister to open the proceedings. 
But I note that last time, the Cultural Minister literally whizzed in just before she was supposed to speak, and then whizzed right back out again. And it actually is not that much of an honor, not that much of a boost to the tone of the conference, if the key note speaker is only half-interested in the subject. I would rather they come when they can sit down and enjoy the event, somewhere were the people and the topic capture the full of their attention.  

Witchhunt

Well, the collapse of the banking system, the revelation of huge donations to political parties by banks and investment firms, the backroom negotiations that supported everything from the construction industry to the food store chains, all of this has got Icelanders pretty freaked out, and understandably so. But as I mentioned to my cousin at a funeral a few weeks ago, a full scale witch hunt to find out exactly how all of this happened, who is responsible for what, who should get sent to jail, well, in my opinion, that should really wait. That should be done carefully and slowly over time, because actually that way more will be revealed, through the slow unraveling of all the threads. But I completely agree that it needs to be done, absolutely, because only then will the political parties, the companies, and the Icelandic people all finally be playing on the same field, everyone knowing everything, as it ought to be.

Of course, in the United States, we are more apt to just find out wh…

Debates

There is not that much programming in Icelandic on Icelandic television, other than the news, and the "beint utsending" from the Althingi (equivalent of CSPAN). Unfortunately, I really do not enjoy watching people arguing with each other, somehow the tension just comes across much too strongly in Icelandic for my comfort level. I guess this is why I have not turned on my Icelandic TV in the last few weeks (I also have an American TV, thus justifying adjectivizing this noun, although of course it does not pick up any channels, it just can play American movies). 

A good politician

The mayor just stopped by. We had a nice chat. It makes me feel like a real Keflavikingur that I like the mayor as much as I do; there is really no question about him loosing the election, even though his party is in a free fall. He is somehow extremely good at engendering trust, and as any good politician knows, people can only love someone they trust.

Song birds

Easter has just passed, and indeed there has been talk of spring for about the last two weeks or so. I see the snow melting and the bright days, and these register as signs of spring. But really, to me, the surest sign of spring is the happy chirping chorus of song birds. I do not suppose that is a sound heard too much in Iceland. 

Pilates

Last night I was at my cousin's house for Easter dinner. I suppose I should note in the spirit of this blogg that holiday dinners in Iceland are not served at special times of the day, the way holiday dinners in the States are. Nope, Easter dinner was 7pm, just like dinner every other day, whereas in the States, Easter dinner, Thanksgiving dinner, and Christmas dinner are usually served between 2pm and 4pm, because so much food is prepared no one could imagine eating lunch ahead of time and one is stuffed for hours afterwards. 
Anyhow, not what I wanted to write about. What I was thinking about just now, while making my coffee and remembering how good her coffee was, was a snip of the conversation that through me for a loop. I made a comment about how cute she looked. She started talking about her pilates and body balance exercise regiment. How great it felt, what time of the day it was held, that it was just up the hill, and that a friend of hers ran the class, how great she was a…

On lettuce

I woke up this morning with a new idea about how to cut the Icelandic lettuce/cabbage thing that is sold in the stores here. Because unlike the lettuce and cabbage I am used to, this leafy vegetable is not round. Instead, it shaped like celery bunches. One could say then that it is like green leaf lettuce, but that is not really accurate either, because the whole thing is incredibly tightly packed together, and each leaf has a huge thick white spine that starts already at the top of the leaf. By about 2/3 down, that is all there is, just the thick white part. I have no idea if I am supposed to eat that part or not. 
With lettuce in California, I always knew which parts to eat. I even learned a great technique for removing the central stem from Iceberg lettuce (pretty simple, you just whack it hard on the flat part). Greenleaf is almost entirely edible from tip to bottom, though usually the tips of the outer leaves are a bit too thick, whereas the leaves toward the center are more delic…

Checks and Balances

I have always been a bit skeptical about the claim that the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches of the U.S. Federal government work to offer a system of checks and balances. But being here in Iceland, where there is no such system in place, my appreciation for how well the U.S. system works to keep such a huge country basically on task is increasing. Iceland is a small, friendly society, so if things get a wee out of hand, it can be dismissed as mostly exciting and refreshing. But if this were to happen on a larger scale, holy cow, watch out world.

Easter

To me, Easter is a very important holiday, even though I do not fast for Lent or make a big show of it. Quietly, privately, deep within me, Easter is important. Thus I am always interested to note how much attention it merits in society in general. When I was a kid in California, we got Easter break off of school, and most things were closed Good Friday. But the last few years, Easter has been pushed to the background, kids get "Spring Break" off, which may or may not correspond to Easter week, and of course the commercial aspect is disheartening. Here in Iceland, everyone gets the Thursday and Friday before Easter and the Monday afterwards off of work, and that seems to me like an appropriate amount of public recognition of the importance of Easter. But on the other hand, no one I know is actually planning on going to church that day, whereas in the United States, going to church on Easter Sunday is extremely common even for non church goers. In that way, Easter does get a …

Seltjarnarnes

There is a stretch of road called Aegisíða in Reykjavik, and although it is not quite PCH, I always enjoy driving along it. 

Professional versus personal contacts

The challenge of maintaining a purely professional relationship with someone here in Iceland is almost impossible. People start asking about family or personal matters almost immediately. 9 times out of 10, a mutual acquaintance or relation is found, and whala, the relationship transfers from professional to personal. In fact, I do not think there really is a distinction here in Iceland. I have tried, owing to my own background, to impose such a distinction. This person is a personal contact, a friend, and this person is a professional contact, a colleague. It does not work. The people that are your friends want to find out if they can work with you on something. The people who are your professional contacts all of a sudden invite you to their birthday parties. I admit I am absolutely unable to manage the distinction, and therefore happily retreat to Reykjanesbær, where everyone is family.

Iced Tea

It has been so bright and sunny here the last two days that I decided I simply had to make iced tea, as if it were summer time or something. Thankfully, I bought a lemon at the store a few days ago, so the flavor should be just right.  

Please come

Well, we are ordering lights and I am writing text and Gunnar is getting the ship in ship-shape and the weather is turning nice, and the parking lot is getting paved and the cleaning contract put in place. So now everyone is just hoping the tourists will actually come. And the artifacts. I've got my finger's crossed, because my heart just cannot take too much more excitement. 

Natural resources

A film opened here this week called Draumaland, which talks about the impact the energy sector has had on the Icelandic landscape. There are two factors at play, the Icelandic power companies which build the geothermal and hydroelectric plants, and then the foreign companies (mostly aluminum smelters) that buy the newly produced energy at a very cheap price to produce goods for world-wide sale, and polluting the environment (though this has been reduced with recent innovations). Conversations in the media with experts in this matter, and the film itself, have all emphasized that this is not a simple two step process. Instead, it is more a "which came first the chicken-or-the-egg" type questions. Icelanders aren't just building damns for no reason, they are building them for the foreign industries, even before the foreign industries get here and start buying the energy. It is in fact a cycle with no clear beginning point. For Icelanders, I think this is upsetting because …

Double entendre

Well, my Icelandic language skills are improving, my vocabulary has exponentially increased and I have started conjugating verbs and declining nouns more and more often, though still not always. Colloquial phrases, something most people do not learn in school, is something I have always had a leg up on over other language learners, and I am adding to my repertoire there also. But I tell you what, I am so far from being able to get puns, produce puns, or pick up on anything other than the most obvious double entendre, it is frustrating. 
Yesterday I was speaking to a colleague of mine who knows English very well, so I made a joke in English that included a double entendre. I was happy to notice that he did not seem to notice.  

The old fashioned way

An acquaintance of mine wrote me yesterday, said that the Facebook application 'Islendingabók' had informed him that we were related. Our great, great grandfather's were brothers. Which was kind of cool, but it also made me think that this is not the way our grandparents or even our parents would have worked out the relations. No, they would have met a few times, had a few conversations, and by asking a few questions, figured this out the old fashioned way. It may have taken longer, but I think it would have been a bit more satisfying to figure it out that way, instead of having the computer work it out for you. 
The funny thing is though that I sort of had that feeling about him anyhow, and I should have asked. I mean he even has my grandfather's same first name!

Life on an island

There is actually a lot to see here in Iceland, a lot to do. One does not need to leave the island to have all sorts of adventures. 

European Union

Icelanders have a tricky problem on their hands, pulling the society out of several serious messes they have landed in, not only because of the banking collapse but also social issues that were brewing long before then. One option that is suddenly getting attention is the idea of joining the European Union. 
When the EU was created many years ago, I remember telling my cousin that Iceland should not join, that in fact the premise of independent nations within the EU would eventually give way to the sort of seamlessness one finds in the United States. Sure the states have differences, both legal and cultural. But the legal differences are easy enough to adapt to, as soon as one is informed as to what they are; the basic format is the same in every State, the legal structure the same even if the laws vary. And the cultural differences between states is no greater than the cultural differences within most states, really. So the 50 states of the United States really do make one nation, as …

Cheese Experiment

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I have a lovely little hand-blown glass creamer, the guy who made it (Larús) is Icelandic but it was part of a series he made while living in Denmark. He blew glass into weather worn, hollowed-out logs, and then finished the pieces as they cooled. They retain the natural contours of the decaying wood; that which was the interior of the wood is now the exterior of the glass item. When he moved back here, he had only a few pieces left from that collection, and no way to make more. I was so enamored with this series, the way the items fit into the palm of my hand especially, that I bought his last creamer, decided I did not care that there was no matching sugar bowl. (thankfully, a few weeks later, a friend gave me a Jensen salt server which I decided to turn into a sugar bowl. I find that the glass creamer and the metal sugar bowl, both Danish in origin, work well together). 

Anyhow, that is background for this story. Which is not really for the squeamish. 
Although the creamer sits out o…

Rolling hills

When I was a kid in Southern California, the housing construction was pretty non-stop. But just past the mall, at the edge of town, the development gave way to rolling hills. I used to drive my car to the end of the road there, and walk to a spot on the top of one hill, and just look out. It was a good place to think. Eventually, the developers got their hands on those hills too, and that was when Orange Country really stopped being home for me. 
There are lots of places in Iceland with wonderful, wide open views that remind me of those hills in Southern California. So I guess that means I think more here. 

Reykjanesbær

I heard from my friend Kolleen yesterday that her and her family may be moving to Reykjanesbær. I was really excited. She used to live in Reykjavík, right by Miklatúnin, and then moved out to the tiny fishing village of Þórshafn. I think Reykjanesbær will be a good compromise, not too city, not too country. But close enough to both. (If you consider rocky hraun countryside....to get to the real Icelandic countryside from Reykjanesbær, you have to drive through Reykjavík.)

Common ground

For any Icelanders, this will surely seem like a laboriously obvious point, but for someone like me, who grew up around sufer dudes and supermodels, having people to talk to that share your same interests, have a similar background, and know lots of the same people seems rare to me. But since my main interest has tended for a long time to be Iceland, well then, being here increased the odds of that considerably.

My dad's dad

My dad's dad was named August, and so my dad's older brother was named August, as was August's oldest son. But no one in the United States is really called August much these days. Even my uncle, he went by Gus. So when I came here to Iceland, I was happy to see that the name August is very much in currency here: that means if I ever have another child, I could name it August after my American grandfather, but it would sound perfectly Icelandic. Even the variation Augusta for a girl is pretty common here, but if I had a girl I think I would name her after my father's grandmother, the woman who basically raised him, Katrine. Thankfully, that works in Icelandic also. 

Waterfalls

I was just looking at some pictures of the trip my friends made last summer around Iceland, and I was noticing that they seem to have a lot of pictures of waterfalls. Indeed, I think most tourists that come to Iceland end up taking lots of waterfall shots here, just by virtue of how ubiquitous they are. But it got me thinking about what it is that makes a waterfall so fascinating, so picture worthy. And whether or not a camera can really do a waterfall any justice at all. I guess for some people it is just the visual beauty of it, the contrast of white against green and black, finding the right way to frame it. Sometimes waterfall shots include mist, and I think this is a way to visually invoke the sensation of being near a waterfall, how refreshing it can be. And it is really the physical sensation of being near a waterfall that makes us want to photograph them, to provide a visual pneumonic of that experience. But I think this is limited to those waterfalls that are delicate and mis…

Vonarstræti

I just got off the phone with my mom, who is reading the Icelandic book I gave her for Christmas, Vonarstræti by Ármann Jakobsson. I think it has been a while since she has read a novel in Icelandic, so she was surprised that after 2 days of doing little else than reading that, she is only a bit more than half way done. Usually she finishes a book in a day, but then she is usually reading paperback fluff. It is a nice break for her, after all she has been through, to lay back on her couch in Southern California and read Icelandic. 
Anyhow, she has found that the book speaks to her on lots of levels, since she, like the main character and many Icelanders of her generation, lived in Copenhagen for a short time, while finishing school. The connection between Denmark and Iceland indeed continues to be very strong, despite the call for independence highlighted in the book. 
But the thing she said she liked best so far was the detail about the main character putting Icelandic lava rocks on th…